Ex-megachurch pastor blames underage victim, wants out of prison

2014-06-03T20:20:00Z 2014-06-04T19:42:09Z Ex-megachurch pastor blames underage victim, wants out of prisonBill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
June 03, 2014 8:20 pm  • 

HAMMOND | A former minister of First Baptist Church of Hammond is gambling he can get out of prison by branding as a seductress the underage girl he molested.

Jack A. Schaap, 56, is asking a federal judge to overturn his 12-year sentence "due to the aggressiveness of (the girl) that inhibited impulse control ..."

It is a risky strategy that may backfire with U.S. District Judge Rudy Lozano, who sentenced Schaap last year and would hear the new petition, according to veteran local defense attorneys.

"Judge Lozano may give him more time," said one lawyer, who asked to remain anonymous.

Schaap pleaded guilty to transporting a female student of the church's high school to Illinois and Michigan for sexual encounters. He also had sex with her in his church office here in June and July 2012. 

He is being held in the Federal Correctional Institute in Ashland, Ky., and he isn't eligible for release until April 20, 2023.

His sentence was two years above the penalty agreed to by the U.S. attorney's office and Schaap's lawyer at the time, Paul Stracci, of Merrillville. The judge wasn't bound by that or the recommended sentencing guideline in the case, which ranged above 17 years.

Nevertheless, Schaap's attorney, Charles Murray, of Bonita Springs, Fla., has filed a court memorandum asking to present new evidence and portraying the girl, who was age 16 at the beginning of her sexual encounters with Schaap, as having "had prior extensive sexual experience" in addition to using alcohol and marijuana.

Murray argues, "No doubt exists that (Schaap) should have resisted (her) advances, but (Schaap) submits his actions did not serve to destroy (her) in the manner that often occurs when underage individuals are victimized."

Schaap's new pleading doesn't sit well with his former megachurch.

"We stand with the court on the judgment," Ed Lapina, First Baptist's administrative pastor, said Tuesday. "We felt the court was very fair and just in its judgment.

Lapina said he wanted to clear up false rumors circulating last year that the victim's family, longtime church members, were told to stay away from church services.

"That is basically Facebook folklore. They are as welcome here as I am. They have chosen not to come back. We are fine with that, but the church has no animosity toward them. I wrote them a letter of apology a few months ago. 

"The girl was a troubled girl. Her past was a tough past. She came here for help and that should have been our goal. It should have been (Schaap's) goal. That didn't end up happening, and so he is taking responsibility for that now with his prison term," Lapina said.

Stracci, Schaap's former attorney, declined comment Tuesday on the new petition. Neither Murray nor the U.S. attorney's office returned calls seeking comment.

Schaap's memorandum is in sharp contrast with earlier comments he was pleading guilty to spare his victim the trauma of a public trial and that he should be blamed for the crime, not others.

Schaap, a married man with two children, was pastor of a church that had the loyalty of 15,000 members. The victim's parents told the court they believed their daughter was safe going to the church and its schools, which she had done since kindergarten.

The father is quoted in a court document stating, "The rule of our house was that the pastor was God's representative on Earth. Always do what the pastor says."

The government stated the girl was referred to Schaap by a school administrator after she had trouble coping with a troubled relationship with a younger man.

The girl wrote in her victim impact statement, "I was raised by my parents and teachers to trust and obey my pastor. He was a celebrity to me, a father figure and a man of God. As my pastor, I sought guidance and counseling from (Schaap) when I was in need of help."

Federal authorities said their private counseling sessions increased in number, length and intimacy.

The girl wrote, "(Schaap) violated my trust. But when it was being violated, I didn't even know it because he made me believe what we were doing was OK and right in the eyes of God. When I asked him if it was wrong, he told me no and that I was his precious gift from God. I felt so special when he texted me from the holy altar during his sermons."

The government said they texted each other 637 times during the month before a member of Schaap's staff discovered incriminating photographs of the two, church officials fired him and called in authorities.

Jill Koster, assistant U.S. attorney in the case, said in a sentencing memorandum last year, "The government submits that any 16- to 17-year-old girl placed in the victim's vulnerable shoes and showered with attention and affection from (Schaap) whom she practically been taught to worship would have ended up in exactly the same position as the victim in this case, in love with (Schaap), the ultimate hypocrite."

Lozano on Tuesday gave the U.S. attorney's office until July 3 to file its response. Schaap will then have until Aug. 4 to file any reply to prosecutors' response.

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