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5 more men say they were molested by ministers

BYLINE: By Jane O. Hansen Staff Writer
DATE: 04-30-1988
PUBLICATION: The Atlanta Journal and Constitution
EDITION:
SECTION: Newspapers_&_Newswires
PAGE: B/01

Law enforcement officials in Georgia and Virginia are investigating
a growing number of complaints from young men who say they were sexually
molested as minors by three Georgia evangelists.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennie Montgomery of Roanoke, Va., said
Friday that five new alleged victims have stepped forward since a federal
grand jury there indicted the men last week. In Columbus, law enforcement
officers involved in the case said they have uncovered two more possible
victims.
"And we're looking for more," said Ms. Montgomery, who is
prosecuting the case.
The three ministers - Columbus television evangelist Mario Ivan
"Tony" Leyva, his organist Rias Edward Morriss, and Douglasville minister
Freddie M. Herring (also known as Freddie Harrington) - were indicted
April 22 and charged with transporting at least three minors across
interstate lines for the purpose of prostitution.
Leyva was charged with four criminal counts, and Morriss and Herring
were each charged with one. Leyva and Morriss were arraigned Monday in
Columbus. Leyva also faces state charges of child molestation in
Virginia.
Despite prostitution charges, Ms. Montgomery described the case as
"just a typical child molestation case," in which investigators are
expecting to turn up more victims.
According to law enforcement officers, the evangelists shared the
teenagers among themselves, taking them to religious crusades and
revivals across the South to have illicit sex with them.
The sexual activities listed in the indictment allegedly occurred
between May 1983 and July 1987. Investigators said that although the case
originated in Virginia, they believe most of the incidents occurred in
Georgia, where Leyva, 41, moved around from Atlanta to Douglasville to
Columbus. Leyva, an itinerant evangelist whose preaching has taken him
across the South, Midwest and even into Latin America, in recent months
has been based in Columbus, coming there from Marietta. He was in Roanoke
preaching less than two weeks ago.
Ms. Montgomery said the case first came to the attention of the FBI
in Roanoke last summer. "They began investigating and we got to a point
we thought we had enough to indict," she said.
Law enforcement officials in both Columbus and Roanoke described the
alleged victims as young men whose ages ranged from 14 to 17 at the time
they were supposedly molested. Most were called "troubled" youth from
poor or broken homes who accompanied Leyva and performed various tasks,
such as putting up revival tents.
A law enforcement official who is close to the investigation but
asked not to be named, said that in Roanoke Leyva sometimes rode around
in a chauffeured li mousine, offering the young men gifts and trips they
could not otherwise afford.
The official said in some cases, the alleged victims had begun
attending Leyva's evangelistic sessions with their parents when they were
6 or 7 years old, many years before they allegedly engaged in sex with
him. "This was a man their family trusted," the official said. "And when
he offered to give them a job and take them during the summer on these
trips, then Mom and Dad thought this was great."
Ms. Montgomery said that under federal law, she must convince the
jury that the three ministers engaged in prostitution. "The prostitution
we're talking about is engaging in sexual activity with those gentlemen
in exchange for room, board, spending money, gratuities, that sort of
thing," she said.
Prior to 1986, federal law did not cover child molestation, other
than through prostitution, she said. Although the law was amended in
1986, only one of the five counts in the indictment occurred after the
new statute.
"We're just making it fit," she said. "So if the jury doesn't
believe there was any prostitution, we lose, even if they find
molestation."
Law enforcement officials said Friday they will continue to
investigate a possible ring in which Leyva or the other two transported
the youths for other adults' sexual exploitation.
"Our evidence doesn't show that they were supplying these kids to
other people, but they were just using them themselves," said one law
enforcement official."
Last four paragraphs omitted.



Copyright 2003 The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution