PINE CITY, Minn. (AP) — The leader of an isolated religious sect in Minnesota was sentenced Friday to 30 years in prison, weeks after he pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting two teenage girls who were members of his community.
Victor Barnard, 55, agreed to the 30-year sentence as part of his plea deal earlier this month in Pine County.
Barnard was the longtime leader of the River Road Fellowship near Finlayson, about 90 miles north of Minneapolis.
In 2012, two women came forward and told authorities that Barnard began assaulting them when they were as young as 12 and 13. The women said they were among about 10 girls and young women who were chosen to live in a camp apart from their families as part of Barnard's "Maidens Group."
Barnard kept the girls secluded, using religious coercion and intimidation to maintain his control over them, authorities said. He allegedly told one victim she would remain a virgin because he was a "man of God."
Barnard was a fugitive when he was charged in April 2014 with 59 counts of criminal sexual conduct. He was placed on the U.S. Marshals Service most-wanted list and was arrested in Brazil last year after an international manhunt.
At the time of his guilty plea, his attorney, Dave Risk, said Barnard chose to plead guilty to spare his victims, their families and the community from a trial.