An Ohio-based Christian nonprofit admitted that two of its managers knew for years that one of its employed missionaries serving in Haiti had engaged in sexual activity with minors but allowed him to serve for the organization anyway.
NBC News reports that 38-year-old Ohio native Jeriah Mast, who served Christian Aid Ministries, was indicted in Holmes County court in July for sexual imposition crimes involving children under the ages of 16 that took place in Ohio between 1998 and 2008.
He was indicted on seven felony charges of gross sexual imposition and seven misdemeanor charges of sexual imposition. Defense attorney John Johnson Jr. told the national news outlet that his client pleads not guilty to the charges.
A jury trial is slated to begin on Nov. 5.
In a June open letter, CAM’s board of directors disclosed that Mast is also accused of sexually abusing minors while serving with the charity in Haiti.
“It is already well known that our former employee, Jeriah Mast, has confessed to molesting boys while working for our organization in Haiti,” an open letter from the charity’s board of directors issued in June reads. “It is also well known that he has fled the country of Haiti and is residing in the United States. It is understood that he is wanted in Haiti for his crimes.”
CAM was founded in 1981 as a “channel for Amish, Mennonite, and other conservative Anabaptist groups and individuals to minister to physical and spiritual needs around the world.”
The charity’s board of directors claims that it had no knowledge of Mast’s alleged abuse until May 2019 when Mast confessed to his congregation at Shining Light Christian Fellowship in Millersburg the day after he returned from Haiti.
However, the board of directors admitted that two of its managers, Paul Weaver and Eli Weaver, allowed Mast to continue to serve in the field even after he confessed in 2013 to engaging in sexual activity with young men in years prior.
According to CAM’s lawyer, Robert Flores, the abuse that Mast admitted to in 2013 “had taken place several years prior in Haiti."
"The minor victims in Haiti that we are aware of were taking part in local schools or programs to which CAM was providing assistance or support, such as food or materials," Flores said.
CAM placed both Paul and Eli Weaver on administrative leave pending the full investigation of their role in the matter.
“Both men recognize that their failure to properly investigate and inquire into Jeriah’s conduct was a serious failure in judgment and should have severe consequences,” the board’s June letter reads.
A statement from leaders at Shining Light Christian Fellowship explains that Mast confessed to multiple instances of immoral sexual relationships with boys that began in his youth.
“He acknowledged to living a life of deception and hypocrisy. He also confessed that he lied to cover up his sins,” the church’s statement reads.
“Jeriah spent hours on his face weeping and wailing over his sins and feeling such remorse over the hurt he caused so many people. With time, he was able to reach out in faith and believe that Jesus shed His blood for his sins, and that God can forgive him. Following his repentance, Jeriah requested discipleship and accountability from the church to help build him up spiritually and to free him from this addiction.”
The church’s ministry team prepared a restoration plan with “strict parameters” to hold Mast accountable to ensure that he stops abusing minors.
“A support team has been put in place to implement this plan. Jeriah is being accounted for at all times by the support team,” the statement reads. “He is not permitted to be alone with minor boys. Jeriah is going to a licensed counselor for further treatment. We are fully cooperating with law enforcement.”
Holmes County Chief Deputy Richard Haun Jr. told NBC News that Mast voluntarily turned himself in at a sheriff's office and admitted to committing crimes in Holmes County and in Haiti.
Huan indicated that the FBI was looking into Mast’s alleged crimes in Haiti but an FBI spokesperson told the news outlet that it "could neither confirm nor deny the existence of criminal investigations” into Mast.
CAM’s board of directors believes it would be “the right thing” for Mast “to appear in Haitian court to answer for his confessed crimes.”
Haiti-based attorney Ludwig Leblanc told NBC News that he represented five young men from the village of Titanyen whom police had previously interviewed as part of an "open inquiry for investigation" into Mast’s alleged crimes.
The attorney’s former clients were minors at the time of the alleged abuse who are now between the ages of 23 and 27. According to Leblanc, the young men took $10,000 payments from CAM and no civil action was taken against Mast as a result.
“You need to understand the economic situation of our country. These kids don’t go to school and need money,” Leblanc was quoted as writing in an email. “We were in the process of building a strong case with psychologists and doctors but they decided to take the money. After that, I decided not to continue to represent them.”
The CAM board’s letter shot down any notion that the organization was trying to “cover-up” Mast’s crimes by providing settlements to victim families.
“The board of directors has not authorized any settlement payments and has no interest in covering this up,” the letter stated.
Leblanc told NBC News that there is “no provision that bars disclosure and there was no effort made to silence any victim with whom a civil agreement was reached.”
"What some have been calling 'settlements' are best described as aid to victims of Mr. Mast that have been recorded by a Notary Public in Haiti," Flores explained, adding that as much as $20,000 was paid to victims depending on their needs.
In an update posted in late September, CAM’s board of directors explained that an independent Anabaptist care group traveled to Haiti to find ways they can equip Haitian pastors to minister to victims of the crimes so they can experience healing.
“The board has moved to provide appropriate assistance for confirmed victims,” the update states. “We started with reparation agreements with several known victims who had expressed a need of housing, vocational training, etc. We have since moved to a more comprehensive plan that includes a committee in Haiti that carefully considers each case and provides direct help for victims who come forward.”
The board stressed that it recognized the need to improve its hiring process and the way CAM staff are supervised. The organization will focus on more robust background checks and screenings and will strengthen existing whistleblower and accountability programs.
CAM will also provide updated training to its employees on how to take action when they are made aware of unacceptable behavior.