Former Ohio missionary gets 9 years in child sex abuse cases
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.