Ful­wider call with ac­cuser de­tailed

‘If there had been a wit­ness ... they would have called the po­lice’

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Jeff Weiner

Over the course of 52 min­utes, as the Rev. Bryan Ful­wider talked to a woman po­lice say he had re­peat­edly raped start­ing when she was 14, he stressed one point sev­eral times: She was un­der no obli­ga­tion to tell church in­ves­ti­ga­tors that any­thing had hap­pened be­tween them.

“You can say … ‘I’m not par­tic­i­pat­ing in this,’ ” Ful­wider, the for­mer se­nior pas­tor of First Con­gre­ga­tional Church of Win­ter Park and co-host of the pop­u­lar “Friends Talk­ing Faith” ra­dio show, said about half­way through the Oct. 1 call. “The stronger you want to say that, the bet­ter, frankly.”

A record­ing of the call ob­tained by the Or­lando Sen­tinel shows Ful­wider re­peat­edly ac­knowl­edged hav­ing had what he de­scribed as a “re­la­tion­ship” with the woman when she was too young to legally con­sent. The record­ing has been al­tered to dis­guise the ac­cuser’s voice.

In ad­di­tion to con­firm­ing the state­ments cited by po­lice when they ar­rested him the fol­low­ing

day, the record­ing re­veals other in­crim­i­nat­ing com­ments by Ful­wider, who presents him­self as a vic­tim of grudge-hold­ing church of­fi­cials and a “com­mu­nity-de­stroy­ing al­le­ga­tion.”

The call took place un­der the su­per­vi­sion of Win­ter Park po­lice De­tec­tive Pamela Woehr. In it, Ful­wider tells the woman he re­cently learned he was un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Florida Con­fer­ence of the United Church of Christ for hav­ing a “sex­ual re­la­tion­ship with a mi­nor over a pe­riod of years.”

What he didn’t know was that, ear­lier that day, the woman had de­tailed to Woehr years of abuse by Ful­wider, dur­ing the pe­riod he ran the Win­ter Park church. The vic­tim said Ful­wider be­gan groom­ing her in 2005, when she was 13, and started raping her when she was 14, in­clud­ing in his of­fice at the church.

“Do you think any­one saw us in the of­fice ever?” she asked, about 14 min­utes into the call.

“No,” Ful­wider replied. “But the door was open some­times,” the woman pressed.

“Look, if there had been a wit­ness to any­thing, they would have called the po­lice, you know?” Ful­wider said. When the woman ex­pressed un­cer­tainty, Ful­wider added: “Of course they would.”

He also told her that he wanted “to crawl un­der a rock.”

“Hon­estly, if I died in my sleep tonight, it would be OK,” he said.

Out of jail on bond and fac­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of life in prison, Ful­wider killed him­self at his Al­ta­monte Springs home the night of

Oct. 27. Prior to his death, he had de­nied any wrong­do­ing through his at­tor­ney, Jacob V. Stuart, who did not re­spond to an email seek­ing com­ment Fri­day.

‘Ca­reer-de­stroy­ing’

“I’ve been bet­ter,” Ful­wider said as the call be­gan. “I’ve been bet­ter.”

He re­vealed what had him wor­ried: He’d got­ten a call from the Rev. John Ver­ti­gan, min­is­ter of the church’s Florida Con­fer­ence. A “fit­ness re­view” had been launched in re­sponse to an al­le­ga­tion about a sex­ual re­la­tion­ship with a mi­nor that could rep­re­sent a “breach in [his] min­is­te­rial stand­ing.”

Next, Ful­wider apol­o­gized for “the way I be­haved ear­lier this year.” It’s un­clear from the record­ing to what he was re­fer­ring, but he said he’d “had a hard time for­giv­ing my­self.”

Ful­wider lav­ished adu­la­tion on the woman, prais­ing her “good in­stincts,” judg­ment, “strong spirit of good” and “heart of kind­ness.”

“I wanted to say those things, be­cause I don’t know where this is go­ing to end up,” he added.

Ful­wider went on to ex­plain what was at stake: His cre­den­tials as a min­is­ter of the church. His fu­ture with the In­ter­faith Coun­cil of Cen­tral Florida. His ca­reer.

“I don’t care about cre­den­tials but this is a ... com­mu­nity-de­stroy­ing al­le­ga­tion and, if they de­ter­mine that they think it’s cred­i­ble, or right or, what­ever — true — I don’t know the ex­tent to which I will have to exit this sit­u­a­tion,” he said. “… I would prob­a­bly leave the area … and, even if it doesn’t go ter­ri­ble, some­thing like this is ca­reer-de­stroy­ing for some­body with clergy re­la­tion­ships.”

While he had faced a fit­ness re­view be­fore — in 2008, af­ter three women com­plained to the Florida Con­fer­ence about in­ap­pro­pri­ate con­duct, in­clud­ing drink­ing and sex­u­ally charged text mes­sages — he said this time was dif­fer­ent, be­cause his cre­den­tials had been sus­pended at the probe’s out­set.

He also spec­u­lated as to who had re­ported him to the con­fer­ence, nam­ing sev­eral peo­ple in­volved with the church “who had grudges against me — strong grudges.”

But through­out the call, though he of­ten stressed that the woman could tell church in­ves­ti­ga­tors any­thing she wanted, he re­peated that it would be best for him if she chose to keep quiet.

“You can say, ‘There’s no truth to this and I am not go­ing to talk to any­body about any­thing re­lated to this, or some­thing,” he said. “… That, for me, would be the best thing. … If you de­cide to talk about any­thing with any­body … it would be so help­ful if I knew that you were go­ing to say any­thing other than that.”

The ac­cuser replied, “I don’t want any­one find­ing out about us.”

“I know, and I don’t ei­ther,” Ful­wider said.

‘Quote, the vic­tim’

The record­ing con­firms and ex­pands key ex­changes po­lice re­lied on in ar­rest­ing Ful­wider:

Af­ter the ac­cuser asked if there was “any­one else,” Ful­wider re­sponded ve­he­mently: “No, no, no, noth­ing, noth­ing, noth­ing ever, ever, ever. Never ever. No­body. Noth­ing. I mean, hon­estly, they could line up ev­ery fe­male re­lated to the church and if ev­ery­body ex­cept for one told the ab­so­lute truth, they would have zero.”

“You mean me?” the woman asked.

“Well, yeah,” Ful­wider replied. Later, when the ac­cuser asked if she could be found at fault for what hap­pened be­tween them, Ful­wider replied, “Oh heav­ens, no.”

“You would be con­sid­ered, quote, the vic­tim of this,” Ful­wider said. “It would be as if I were a preda­tor and you were vic­tim­ized by me. And you know, that was never, ever where I was com­ing from.”

She asked: Where was he com­ing from? “With you? Love,” Ful­wider said.

It was one of sev­eral times through­out the call that Ful­wider ex­pressed his love for the woman, who told po­lice that, start­ing when he was her pas­tor and she was 14, he raped her dozens if not hun­dreds of times in his of­fice, his car, ho­tel rooms and on church trips across the coun­try.

“I love you more than I love any­body in my life and have ever loved any­body in my life,” he said. “All I re­ally want for you, now, in your life, is to be happy and have a good life.”

About 39 min­utes into the call, he told her their “re­la­tion­ship is our business and not any­one else’s.”

Ac­cord­ing to the ac­cuser, the in­ap­pro­pri­ate in­ter­ac­tions be­gan af­ter Ful­wider dis­creetly ap­proached her at the church, ask­ing her to write her AOL screen name on a note pad and not tell any­one. He would later send her im­ages of his gen­i­tals and give her a “burner” phone so her mother wouldn’t find out.

‘Not a le­gal mat­ter’

De­spite his clear con­cern about the al­le­ga­tions sur­fac­ing, Ful­wider seemed con­fi­dent in the call that he wouldn’t face crim­i­nal reper­cus­sions.

“Do you think they have a duty to call the po­lice?” the woman asked.

“No,” he replied.

He ex­plained that the church might de­cide to “de­frock” him, but “it’s still just a church mat­ter.”

“It’s not a le­gal mat­ter,” he said. “I think some­one would have to make an in­de­pen­dent com­plaint. and the po­lice of course have a much higher stan­dard of that kind of com­plaint. I don’t think they can … lis­ten to some­body sec­ond­hand on some­thing like this. It’s called hearsay. It’s not ad­mis­si­ble in court.”

“I be­lieve you would have to say some­thing,” he added.

Near the end of the call, Ful­wider, who was se­nior pas­tor at First Con­gre­ga­tional from 1999 to 2012, lamented some­one de­cid­ing to come for­ward af­ter years had passed.

“Seven years af­ter I leave the church and, there­fore, many more years past … some al­leged thing, to start drag­ging that out and writ­ing let­ters about it — what the hell?” he said.

“So crazy,” the ac­cuser said. Ful­wider added, “I think it’s some sort of sick­ness, frankly.”

Ful­wider

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