The Rev. Cornelius Tilton, a longtime pastor, businessman and president of the Christian Bible College of Louisiana has been charged with sexually assaulting a student on an international flight bound for Newark, New Jersey, the Department of Justice announced Monday.
According to the complaint against Tilton, on or about Nov. 30, the victim identified as a 19-year-old male student at a theological seminary, was traveling with a group of students from a religious trip to Israel back to New Jersey.
Tilton, 65, who is a married great-grandfather, had accompanied the group as an unofficial guide and speaker. During the flight, Tilton sat in a window seat next to the victim. The complaint noted that at some time during the flight, the pastor placed his hand on the student’s bare calf. He then continued touching the victim’s thigh and eventually began rubbing the student’s genitals over his shorts.
The student allegedly did not react or look at Tilton at this point out of shock and fear. Tilton then took the student's hand and placed it on his erect penis, on top of his clothing. In a bid to stop what was happening the student got up from his seat and went to the bathroom and the Tilton did the same, according to the complaint.
When they returned to their seats Tilton continued touching the student’s lower back under his clothing and attempted to place his hands down the student’s pants when the student blocked his hand with his elbow and reported the assault to a flight attendant.
Tilton was later charged with abusive sexual contact which carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison or a fine of up to $250,000, or both.
Representatives of Christian Bible College of Louisiana were not immediately available for comment when contacted by The Christian Post Wednesday, but those who know Tilton told Fox 8 they were shocked by the allegations against him.
“I am shocked. I knew him for at least two years. My nephew had a lot of trouble growing up, and he always helped him," Elizabeth Diket said.
"The person that I know, he was a pastor of the Irish Channel Community Church. A very sweet person. You know, if you go to him and you need anything, if he can help, he would," Marline Young whose her mother worked closely with Tilton as one of Irish Channel Christian Fellowship’s board members, told the network. “I’m just shocked and very hurt to hear something like this about him.”
Tilton is married with four adult children, eight grandchildren and one great granddaughter, according to the Christian Bible College of Louisiana. He is also a former chairman of New Orleans area Habitat for Humanity, the New Orleans Mission and Prison Fellowship Ministries, and is a nationally certified in-prison seminar instructor and trainer.
In addition to his work with the church and Bible college, Tilton also leads Tilton Travel and Cruises, which promotes trips to Israel and Caribbean vacations for families and couples.
He further served as a missionary to several African and Central American nations, and serves as a member of various boards, including chair of the New Orleans Ethics Review Board.