HAMMOND | A federal judge denied a petition from Jack Schaap, former First Baptist Church of Hammond pastor, to overturn his 12-year prison sentence for sexually abusing a 16-year-old church member.

U.S. District Court Judge Rudy Lozano issued the ruling Tuesday. Lozano dismissed Schaap’s claims that his attorney ineffectively advised him during plea agreement and sentencing proceedings.

Schaap contended his attorney advised him the sentence would be a maximum of 120 months if he pleaded guilty, more likely between three and four years, and perhaps as low as 18 months. Schaap testified he did not realize his actions with the girl were illegal, which included driving the girl from Illinois to Michigan to engage in sexual activity.

Furthermore, the court advised Schaap he would waive his right to an appeal by accepting the plea agreement. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jill Koster argued Schaap’s claims contradict statements he made during sentencing proceedings in which “he acknowledged he faced a minimum of 10 years in prison and a maximum of life in prison.”

Offering an outside opinion on the matter, Gail Riplinger, a noted religious author, scholar and lecturer, wrote a letter to Lozano disputing Schaap’s claim he did not have proper legal counsel. She claimed Schaap had free legal advice at his disposal through the Christian Law Association, and personally knew Schaap’s had a close association with some members of its legal staff.

“I must conclude that Jack Schaap likely has more close personal friends who are lawyers than anyone who has ever appeared before you as a defendant,” Riplinger wrote. “No doubt they were all just a phone call away to clarify any questions he may have had. Most of us have not had the privilege of having a cadre of close friends who are attorneys, but Schaap certainly has many such close associations.”

Riplinger adds that given Schaap’s level of literacy — noting numerous books authored by him for sale on Amazon.com, as well as his (doctorate) level of education — (his) “assertion that he could not understand the words regarding the sentencing seems preposterous.”

Schaap presided over a faith-based empire of thousands of worshipers belonging to Hammond’s downtown “mega-church” and as president of Hyles-Anderson College. His inappropriate relationship with the teen was reportedly discovered when a church deacon caught a glimpse of a cellphone picture of Schaap and the girl kissing.

Schaap is serving his sentence at a federal penitentiary in Ashland, Ky.

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Metro Editor