A former employee of the Victory Christian Center megachurch in south Tulsa, Okla., pleaded guilty to making a lewd proposal to a 14-year-old girl on Friday, days before his trial was scheduled to begin and months after claiming he did not know the age of the girl.
Israel Castillo, who worked as a janitor at the church, admitted before Tulsa District Judge William Kellough that he sent lewd Facebook messages to a 14-year-old girl, according to The Associated Press. His trial was scheduled for Tuesday.
Castillo, 24, is one of the accused in sex scandals involving the 17,000-member church that came to fore last summer. Until Friday, he had alleged that he was not aware that the girl was underage.
The admission comes a month after another ex-employee of the church, Chris Denman, was given 55 years in prison for raping a 13-year-old girl in a stairwell on the church's campus last year. Five more church employees, including the son and daughter-in-law of Victory Christian Center Senior Pastor Sharon Daugherty, were charged with taking more than two weeks to report the rape to police after they learned about it.
Castillo was taken into custody immediately after Friday's hearing, and his sentencing was scheduled for Oct. 18. Until Friday, he was free on bond pending trial. He faces up to 20 years in prison.
"We are pleased the victim didn't have to go through a jury trial," Sarah McAmis, director of the Crimes Against Children Division at the district attorney's office, was quoted as saying.
Castillo's defense attorney Hugh Hood said it was merely a case of poor judgment. "He recognizes that these communications should not have taken place and that he, as an adult, exercised poor judgment," he was quoted as saying. "He understands that, regardless of the sentence imposed by the court, a plea to this allegation will require that he register as a sex offender probably for the rest of life."
Last September, the mother of the 13-year-old victim filed a civil suit against the church, seeking more than $75,000 in damages and accusing officials of attempting "damage control" instead of reporting the incident immediately. The case is set for a jury trial in January.
A month after the civil suit was filed, a national support group of people abused by priests accused church's ministers of trying to cover-up the abuse and save the church's reputation rather than provide full support for the victims. "Again, here we go with these ministers putting their reputations ahead of the safety of the kids," Barbara Dorris, the outreach director for the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said at the time.
In March, church's youth pastors John and Charica Daugherty pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor of waiting two weeks to report the rape crime, and were handed five-year deferred sentences with no jail time. Special Judge Bill Hiddle said the son and daughter-in-law of Pastor Daugherty did not carry as much blame for the incident as their three other co-workers who were sent to 30 days in jail. The judge ordered the youth pastors to visit at least 20 organizations that work with children to talk with employees about the proper ways of reporting abuse.
The church has said it is in the process of revising its child abuse and neglect manual and heightening security measures in the campus.