Married pastor, father of 3 faces up to 35 years in prison for sex with teenage intern during counseling
A married Minnesota pastor and father of three is facing up to 35 years in prison and $90,000 in fines for allegedly having felonious sex multiple times with a teenage intern during counseling sessions at his former church.
Investigator Shawn Bohnen of the Sleepy Eye Police Department declared in a probable cause affidavit filed in Brown County Court that from about October 2019 through February 2020, Pastor Nathan Van Alfred Luong, 36, engaged in a sexual relationship with his underage victim multiple times while he counseled her at Trinity Lutheran Church.
Under Minnesota Law, members of the clergy can be charged with criminal sexual conduct in the third degree if a complainant is not their spouse and sexual penetration occurred during a meeting where the complainant sought or received religious spiritual advice, aid or comfort from the perpetrator. The law also makes it illegal for sexual penetration to occur during a period in which a complainant was meeting with the perpetrator regularly to seek religious or spiritual advice or comfort.
Consent by the complainant is not a defense against this charge.
Luong was charged with one count of criminal sexual conduct in the third degree for having a significant relationship with a victim from ages 16 to 17. This charge comes with a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and a $30,000 fine.
He was also charged with criminal sexual conduct in the third degree during a religious advice meeting, which comes with a maximum five-year prison term, a $30,000 fine or both. He has also been charged with criminal sexual conduct in the third degree for having sex with his minor victim on an ongoing basis during a time when he was supposed to be providing spiritual counseling or care.
Court documents show that Luong's conduct was reported to authorities on May 3. Bohnen said it was first alleged by one witness that Luong told a second witness that he had been sexually involved with the victim, who is now an adult but was 17 at the time of their relationship.
Around the time of the report, Luong, who previously coached girls' basketball, had just started a new position as pastor at Faith Lutheran Center Church in Dodge Center, Minnesota, according to the church's May newsletter.
The Christian Post reached out to the church on Monday, but a representative declined to comment.
An individual described as Witness 1 told police that Witness 2 "provided a lot of details, some of which were very disgusting."
"Witness 1 recalled Witness 2 reporting that Defendant and Victim had sex at multiple different locations including the youth room, Defendant's Office, and while on a youth trip in Montana," court records say.
Luong also allegedly created a position at the church for the teenager to be an intern where she had an office inside his office and worked from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
"Witness 1 said that he was told that Defendant had a mattress inside his office," court records say.
Police were provided with brown couch covers on the loveseat and sofa from the church's youth room for examination. Another witness, identified as Witness 3, told police that "she had received past reports from members" of Luong's church complaining about the time he was spending with the teenager and the physical closeness of their relationship.
"Witness 3 was concerned with some possible grooming behavior," court documents note.
When Bohnen met with Witness 2, he said he was told that the teenager would meet with Luong regularly for spiritual guidance starting in February 2020.
She said it was during one of her counseling sessions with the pastor that he revealed that "he was experiencing guilt about his relationship with Victim and that he and Victim were in a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship."
Witness 2 stated that "during one of these sessions, Defendant told her not to sit on the couch in the youth room," and when she asked Luong which cushions she should sit on, he told her that the area was where he had sex with the teenager.
"Witness 2 said that Defendant also explained to her that when his door is closed, it is impossible for someone to see a portion of his office. Witness 2 explained this to Investigator Bohnen and the layout of Nathan's office. Witness 2 confirmed the layout that Witness 1 explained earlier. Witness 2 said that it was the area north of the plug in on the east wall of the office. Witness 2 also explained that there was a futon on that wall. Witness 2 said that Defendant told her that the scuffs on Victim's knees were not from basketball," the affidavit says.
The married pastor, who needed a court-appointed lawyer for his defense, told Witness 2 that he gave the teenager a purple diamond necklace and exchanged rings and symbolic vows with her inside the church.
On May 12, police acting on a search warrant questioned Pastor Luong about the allegations and he denied them.
"Defendant said that nothing sexual occurred with Victim in his office, in the youth group room, or the house he lived in and he never ejaculated anywhere in the church, his office, or the youth group room. Defendant said he never claimed to have had sex or any form of sexual activity with Victim," the affidavit reads.
Police, however, found samples of semen on the seized sofa cover from the church and the pastor's DNA was matched with the specimen. DNA matching the teenager was also found on the cover.
When Bohnen met with the victim in October and told her about the findings from his investigation, she confessed that she had "sex [with Luong] approximately ten times while she was an intern at Trinity Lutheran Church, and that she would have been 17-18 years old during this time."
She said they had sex "approximately eight times in the youth group room and two times at his house in Sleepy Eye."
The victim also confirmed that the pastor bought her a ring, but "she did not ask for the ring, and he gave it to her."
"Victim said when Defendant gave it to her, he told her it was a sign that their relationship is real. Victim said that if DNA was located in Defendant's former office at Trinity Lutheran Church in Sleepy Eye, it is because they were naked in his office, but they did not have sex," the report adds.
Luong is currently out of jail on a $50,000 bond and is expected to appear in court for a preliminary hearing on Dec. 23.
A 2015 profile of Luong in St. Peter Herald said Trinity Lutheran Church was his "first ministerial call" after spending three years as a morning cameraman for KSTP-TV.
"I have a particular passion for global missions, intergenerational ministry, and I enjoy helping people find their faith in the midst of their everyday lives," Luong stated on his now-deleted profile on the Trinity Lutheran website.
According to Faith Lutheran Center Church's May newsletter, it appears Luong was officially called to serve as the pastor of the Dodge Center, Minnesota congregation on April 24.
"I usually only hear my last name when I'm in trouble with my mother," Luong said in his newsletter welcome message. He explained that his last name is a Vietnamese version of a Chinese last name.
"So, you can just call me Nate or Pastor Nate. I'm good with either of them. You'll notice with me that I'm pretty laid back. I like to laugh and joke. I hope that you'll feel welcomed to stop by and visit my office sometimes," he wrote.