HAMMOND, Ind. (STMW) — A former northwest Indiana megachurch pastor was sentenced to 12 years in prison Wednesday for sex crimes involving a 17-year-old female church member, the Post-Tribune is reporting.
Prosecutors had asked for 10 years for the Rev. Jack Schaap, but Judge Rudy Lozano noted federal sentencing guidelines called for at least 168 months, and he didn’t want to go that much below the guidelines.
Lozano noted that Schaap, former First Baptist Church of Hammond pastor, pleaded guilty, but considering the government’s case, he almost had to. He mentioned that Schaap fired an employee who went to his wife with information about his affair with a teen girl, and also asked a tech employee of the church if the photos and texts could be erased. The employee told him they could not, then went to church deacons and the FBI with the images and texts.
Schaap pleaded guilty to causing the girl to be transported to Illinois and Michigan last year for a sexual relationship. Schaap resigned from the megachurch, one of the largest in the country, last summer after church members discovered his relationship with the girl and reported it to local law enforcement.
In his letters to the girl that were filed last week, Schaap said their relationship was “God’s plan” and often discusses how he helped save her from self-destruction, helping to put her on a “better path of living — that’s what we call Righteousness.”
The girl and her family are still dealing with the ramifications of the relationship, according to letters they wrote to the court.
The girl wrote about how she spent her entire life in the church, listening to Schaap preach three times a week and being taught that he was a messenger of God.
“He told me to confide in him, to trust him, and he made me feel safe and comfortable around him as a man of God,” she wrote. “(Schaap) preyed on that trust and my vulnerability.”
In another letter written to Schaap, she says she was shocked when he first kissed her. When she asked if it was wrong, Schaap told her it was OK.
“You told me that I was sent to you from God, I was his gift to you,” the letter says.
She admits that by the time they were discovered, she thought she was in love with him and at first didn’t admit he had victimized her.
Asst. U.S. Attorney Jill Koster says in the sentencing memorandum that Schaap started grooming the victim in April 2012 after an administrator at the girl’s high school, run by the church, emailed Schaap about how she was “frightened, confused and emotionally traumatized,” and in need of guidance.
The administrator wrote that he told the girl to let other people guide her life and to trust her leaders.
Schaap and the girl called and texted each other frequently, including 662 times in one month, before he was discovered. Phone records show he instigated contact in all but five of those days.
The government’s filing says he duped church employees into helping transport the girl across state lines, telling them the girl was “in an extremely vulnerable state” and that he needed prolonged time alone with her to help her.
However, he really took her to his personal property in Crete and to his cabin in Cadillac, Mich., once spending 36 hours alone with her. When the employees grew concerned about the girl’s continued absence and texted Schaap, he claimed the girl had fallen asleep on his couch.
He also engaged in sexual behavior with her in his office at the church during a youth conference, according to the government’s filing.
Schaap later lied to his staff when they grew concerned about the amount of time he spent with the girl by claiming the girl was on her period and was just resting on his couch. A staff member found photos of the two a few days later, which led to the federal investigation.
Koster defends the government’s agreement to recommend a 10-year sentence, noting he agreed to plead guilty even before he was charged.
The victim has also decided to drop her request for restitution as her doctors still cannot estimate how much help she will need.