Pastor could get 10 years for sex across state lines charge
By Teresa Auch Schultz firstname.lastname@example.org September 19, 2012 12:57PM
Family of former Hammond Baptist pastor Jack Schaap leave the Federal Courthouse in Hammond after Schaap's initial appearance before Judge Paul Cherry on Sept. 19. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 21, 2012 2:43PM
Jack Schaap, former pastor of First Baptist Church of Hammond, decided to plead guilty to transporting a minor across state lines for sexual activity to spare the female victim and his own family the trauma of a long legal battle, he said Wednesday afternoon in a statement.
Schaap attorney Paul Stracci read the statement after Schaap’s initial appearance at the U.S. District Court in Hammond, where he agreed not to contest being held in prison pending his change of plea hearing and sentencing.
Stracci said that Schaap said he engaged in the sexual activity this past summer with the girl, hurting her and her family.
“Rather than cause further harm by dragging all those affected through a long legal process, I’ve decided to accept responsibility,” Stracci read from Schaap’s statement.
Schaap, wearing a plaid gray jacket and a dark patterned tie with his hair slicked over, spoke during his initial appearance before U.S. Judge Paul Cherry in a loud, clear voice.
“Unfortunately, yes,” he said when Cherry asked him if he understood the punishment he is facing.
Schaap was charged Tuesday with the count, the same day his plea agreement was filed. According to the agreement, federal attorneys will recommend Schaap spend 10 years in prison for the charge, the mandatory minimum. He also must register as a sex offender and pay an undetermined amount of restitution to the victim. He also has to forfeit his iPod, iPhone, an Olympus digital recorder, two flash drives, a Motorola Razr cell phone and a Canon digital camera.
In exchange, prosecutors in Illinois, Michigan and Lake County will not press any more charges.
The information claims that Schaap committed the crime from June 1 through July 31 by taking the girl from Indiana to Will County in Illinois and Wexford County in Michigan. News of the affair came out in the beginning of August when the megachurch, one of the largest in the nation, announced the deacon board had fired him because of “sin.” Church officials then confirmed that he had a relationship with a 17-year-old girl. At the time, church officials said they did not think Schaap committed a crime but had turned the case over to the Lake County Sheriff’s Department just in case.
First Baptist Church spokesman Eddie Wilson said the church will issue a formal statement, but for the moment, he said it’s a sad day for the church.
“Everything has happened so fast, everyone’s still in a state of shock. It seems surreal,” Wilson said. “We’re sad for the victim, and we’re sad for (Schaap’s) family.”
Wilson said they received the information about the abuse “systemically” but were unaware of how much evidence there actually was because they went to authorities immediately with what they had. The church had also hired the Christian Law Association to conduct a third-party investigation with other church members to determine if anyone else had been victimized.
That 100-plus page report has been turned over to the church’s elder council and the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, Wilson said.
As for the justness of Schaap’s plea agreement, Wilson said it is not for the church to decide what his punishment is but that it did what it felt was right in turning the evidence to authorities.
Stracci said his client asked for people to pray for their own families and the victim.
“It’s always distressing when a spiritual leader acts in a way contrary to his beliefs and teachings,” Stracci said from the statement, “but spiritual leaders are men, susceptible to sickness, weakness, stumbling and sinning.”
A change of plea hearing has been set for Sept. 26.
Correspondent Michelle L. Quinn contributed to this story.