TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Three pastors worked together to entice teen girls to have sex, often for money, and shared photos and videos of the girls, federal prosecutors said.
One founded his own church and built a large following in Toledo. The other two oversaw congregations with a few dozen people that met in rented spaces.
All three pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to charges that include child sex trafficking and sexual exploitation of children. Each could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted.
Federal court documents describe how one of the pastors had sex with a girl in his church office and how another used his phone to record himself having sex with a teen.
There were at least three victims mentioned in the indictment, the youngest being 14.
While the men — Cordell Jenkins, 47, Anthony Haynes, 38, and Kenneth Butler, 37 — all operated their own churches, federal prosecutors said the investigation was connected and remains ongoing.
Haynes and Jenkins were arrested in April while Butler, who most recently ran a small church where his wife was the co-pastor, was arrested in October.
Lorin Zaner, an attorney for Jenkins, said he has not seen all of the evidence prosecutors have gathered so it was too early to say what will happen next. Butler's attorney declined to comment, and a message seeking comment was left with an attorney for Haynes.
It's not surprising if the three men were acting together, said Celia Williamson, director of the University of Toledo's Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute.
"It says to me what we already knew, that sex trafficking is a business," she said. "Of course they worked together. That's how it thrives."
Prosecutors say Haynes first began pursuing and grooming a 14-year-old girl in 2014 and that he gave her money for sex. He also warned her not to say anything because it would ruin his family and his church, according to court documents.
Haynes later introduced the girl to Jenkins and shared pornographic photos and videos that he had recorded, prosecutors said.
Jenkins, who followed in his father's footsteps by becoming a preacher in 1994, founded Abundant Life Ministries in Toledo seven years ago. The church closed after his arrest.
He began having sex with the girl supplied by Haynes in December, and later with another underage girl, an FBI agent testified. One of those girls attended his church, the agent said.
Jenkins, the agent testified, had sex with the girls at his home, church office and a motel. He often recorded the acts with his phone, according to court documents.
The same agent said that a third girl was 15 when she met Butler at Haynes' church.
Butler stared giving the girl rides to work and tried to touch her and convince her to have sex, she told investigators. They later had sex twice, she said according to a court document.
The FBI agent said Butler admitted having sex with the girl and knowing she was underage, but he denied giving her money for sex.