Former Ohio mis­sion­ary gets 9 years in child sex abuse cases

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Front Page - By Peter Smith

MILLERSBUR­G, Ohio — As a clock-tower bell tolled Tues­day from some­where down­town, its muf­fled sound en­ter­ing the third­floor court­room, Judge Robert Rin­fret was count­ing.

He was count­ing his own years of deal­ing with crime and pun­ish­ment.

He was count­ing the near-max­i­mum of nine years of im­pris­on­ment he was about to give former mis­sion­ary Je­riah Mast, 38, for just a frac­tion of his con­fessed sex­ual of­fenses in two coun­tries.

And though Mast’s fel­low church mem­bers weren’t of­fi­cially on trial, Judge Rin­fret was count­ing Mast’s own es­ti­mate of 30 boys that the former mis­sion­ary had sex­u­ally mo­lested in Haiti, and the judge told the con­gre­gants that at least some of them knew enough that they could have spo­ken up years ago — and spared all those

Haitian boys their mis­ery.

“Af­ter 10 years, I’ll be done [as judge],” Judge Rin­fret said. “Twenty-three years in the pros­e­cu­tor’s office” be­fore that.

“I’ve never...” His voice trailed off, then re­turned forcefully: “Never.”

And for a long minute, the court­room Tues­day was quiet, ex­cept for the shuf­fle of pa­pers as Judge Rin­fret sorted through the nu­mer­ous letters ap­peal­ing for le­niency writ­ten by Mast’s sup­port­ers — many of whom had packed the Holmes County Com­mon Pleas court­room.

The judge spoke of the im­pact of Mast’s ac­tions al­most six months to the day that the mis­sion worker had fled Haiti af­ter be­ing con­fronted there with al­le­ga­tions he had ex­ploited his role as a mis­sion­ary by sex­u­ally abus­ing needy boys.

Those sus­pi­cions had fol­lowed Mast back to his home­town of Millersbur­g, the seat of Holmes

County, where he had also mo­lested boys years ago.

By late May, he went with his pas­tor to con­fess to po­lice — a sign of re­morse, his sup­port­ers said; an ef­fort at dam­age con­trol, others said. That day, a mem­ber of a lo­cal fed­eral task force on child ex­ploita­tion, tipped off about the Haiti con­nec­tion, ques­tioned him as well, and Mast con­fessed to mo­lest­ing 30 to 31 boys — a fact that Judge Rin­fret en­tered into pub­lic record for the first time Tues­day.

That num­ber is more than triple the num­ber of vic­tims pre­vi­ously re­ported by two Haitian at­tor­neys.

Mast orig­i­nally was in­dicted this sum­mer on 14 counts of mo­lest­ing five boys in Ohio be­tween 1999 and 2008, but he reached a plea agree­ment in which all but two of the charges were dropped, with prose­cut­ing and de­fense lawyers rec­om­mend­ing a five-year sen­tence.

Now the stocky, bearded man, dressed in a plain black shirt and khaki pants, sat at the de­fen­dant’s ta­ble.

The morn­ing had started with pleas for le­niency from his pas­tor and his wife, the mother of their young chil­dren. They said Mast has shown re­morse and would sub­mit to church over­sight.

Mast him­self told the judge, “I feel aw­ful about the things I have done.”

He said when he re­turned to Ohio ear­lier this year, he felt it was im­por­tant to make amends by apol­o­giz­ing to vic­tims and re­port­ing him­self to po­lice.

“I will never stop ask­ing God to bring heal­ing to the vic­tims,” he said.

His at­tor­ney, John John­son, ar­gued that Mast was a low risk to re-of­fend, cit­ing his will­ing­ness to make amends and sub­mit to church su­per­vi­sion — an ar­gu­ment the judge re­jected.

Mast’s wife, Mar­ian, said she was “dev­as­tated” to learn of her hus­band’s deeds but said he had taken re­spon­si­bil­ity and that she had wit­nessed a “rad­i­cal change” in his life.

Je­riah Mast’s pas­tor, Dwayne Stoltz­fus, of Shin­ing Light Chris­tian Fel­low­ship of Millersbur­g, said he had never seen “such a com­plete and thor­ough con­fes­sion” as his.

Sev­eral rows of seats were filled with sup­port­ers, peo­ple in plain cloth­ing, the women wear­ing veils — the mod­est dress code of con­ser­va­tive An­abap­tists such as Mast’s own church, part of the Char­ity move­ment. Re­lated groups in­clude Men­non­ites and Amish; the Holmes County area has the state’s largest Amish pop­u­la­tion. The Haiti cases, still the sub­ject of a U.S. fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion, weren’t of­fi­cially on the docket.

But Judge Rin­fret cited Mast’s own con­fes­sion of those deeds, and of his of­fenses in Ohio. At one point, he sug­gested that any­one of­fended by the ex­plicit lan­guage leave the court­room but said, “This is the rea­son we’re here to­day.”

In Haiti, Mast had told au­thor­i­ties he of­ten be­friended boys and had them over for sleep­overs. He claimed the boys were poor, of­ten run­ning around naked, and drawn to for­eign­ers for money. Mast said he wasn’t mak­ing ex­cuses but told au­thor­i­ties “it was a hor­ri­ble place for my prob­lem.”

He would arouse the boys sex­u­ally, fon­dle their penises, put his own penis be­tween their legs and mas­tur­bate, ac­cord­ing to his con­fes­sion. He claimed he did not pen­e­trate them.

Judge Rin­fret quoted from a state­ment Mast made in the pre­sen­tenc­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion: “I didn’t force them. It was con­sen­sual on their part.”

The judge asked in­cred­u­lously: “How can an 11-yearold con­sent to sex?”

The judge then went through the litany of Mast’s con­fessed abuses of boys in Ohio, boys he knew from church or fam­ily ties.

The judge then ad­dressed “the church peo­ple here.”

He said of Mast’s vic­tims in Ohio, at least “one of th­ese chil­dren had to tell a par­ent. Ab­so­lutely. I can’t imag­ine a child of 11, 12 years old not telling their par­ents. If that child told you, and you didn’t re­port it, 30 kids in Haiti got abused.”

Even though most of the cases from the orig­i­nal 14count in­dict­ment were dropped due to the pas­sage of the statute of lim­i­ta­tions, Judge Rin­fret noted that Mast had con­fessed to most of them.

One of the vic­tims of the two felony charges had in­formed the court he didn’t want to be part of the case.

But the other vic­tim spoke to the court.

He told of the dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects of Mast try­ing to co­erce him into sex­ual ac­tiv­ity.

“The level of con­trol that some­one in that po­si­tion can have over a child can­not be un­der­stated,” the sur­vivor said.

“There has been a lot said about the virtues of for­give­ness and con­tri­tion,” he said. “But we can­not for­get about the virtues of jus­tice and the laws ... to keep so­ci­ety safe.”

He urged that “this preda­tor be re­moved from so­ci­ety for as long as legally pos­si­ble.”

Judge Rin­fret gave Mast the max­i­mum five-year sen­tence for the lat­ter case and a four-year sen­tence in the former, re­duc­ing it by a year be­cause of the vic­tim’s re­luc­tance.

He or­dered the sen­tences served con­sec­u­tively for a nine-year to­tal, even though the pros­e­cu­tion and de­fense had rec­om­mended con­cur­rent five-year sen­tences. Mast will also have to reg­is­ter as a sex of­fender for 25 years.

With that, a deputy hand­cuffed Mast’s arms in front of him, and he was led from court to­ward his des­ti­na­tion of the Lorain Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tu­tion in Grafton, Ohio.

Mean­while, a sep­a­rate in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­tin­ues un­der fed­eral au­thor­i­ties, who have ju­ris­dic­tion over sex crimes com­mit­ted by Amer­i­cans overseas.

Holmes County is the hub of Ohio’s largest Amish set­tle­ment, and it’s home to the head­quar­ters of Chris­tian Aid Min­istries, the large min­istry that had em­ployed Mast in Haiti.

Two of its own man­agers were placed on leave ear­lier this year amid rev­e­la­tions they knew as early as 2013 that Mast had con­fessed to “sex­ual ac­tiv­ity with young men” yet had kept him on the job.

Chris­tian Aid Min­istries has work­ers in sev­eral coun­tries and re­ceives sup­port from con­ser­va­tive An­abap­tist groups.

Lake Fong/Post-Gazette

Je­riah Mast, 38, of Millersbur­g, Ohio, a former mis­sion­ary for Chris­tian Aid Min­istries, is led out of court Tues­day af­ter be­ing sen­tenced by Judge Robert Rin­fret to nine years in prison for mo­lest­ing boys.

Lake Fong/Post-Gazette

Mar­ian Mast, right, wife of Je­riah Mast, a former mis­sion­ary for Chris­tian Aid Min­istries, and other sup­port­ers lis­ten in­side the Holmes County Court­house dur­ing the sen­tenc­ing.

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