Pocono Record [Stroudsburg PA]
November 22, 2021
By Hannah Phillips
Jeronimo Maisonet was a touchy man, the teenager said.
He befriended her the same way he had all the children at the Church of God Holy Ground; with video games and flashy tech. She’d met him as a pre-teen and watched him draw nearer each year that her family remained in the congregation.
Friendliness morphed into something else when the girl turned 14. She said Maisonet caught her off guard with too-long hugs or a too-frequent compliment in the church pews. She looked pretty in that dress, he told her.
He called her into the church nursery once, the girl said, and then he sexually assaulted her there.
Detectives with the Pennsylvania State Police took down the girl’s statements and launched an investigation that would culminate in Maisonet’s arrest just three weeks later. Her allegations might have sounded familiar; they’d heard a similar story years ago, about the deacon of an East Stroudsburg church with unfettered access to the children he met there.
State police received a tip in 2018 that Maisonet sexually assaulted a 14-year-old boy the summer before. Christopher Bonin, then-corporal of the state’s criminal investigation unit, interviewed the boy about the assault.
Like the girl, he’d met Maisonet as a middle schooler years before the alleged assault. He’d thought Maisonet was overly friendly even as an 11-year-old, the boy told Bonin. The hugging and kissing seemed excessive.
The deacon invited him to his Middle Smithfield Township home in 2017, when the boy was 14. He said Maisonet put pornography on the television, told the boy to lay on his bed and then sexually assaulted him there.
“Maisonet told him that he cannot tell anyone,” a state trooper wrote. “‘Keep it a secret.'”
If he didn’t, the deacon would expose his own secret, the teen said: the names of the girls he liked.
What happened after the boy’s 2018 interview with Bonin is unclear. According to police, the teen “didn’t appear to be ready to testify and bring everything out in the open.”
“Some additional investigative techniques were attempted but not successful,” said PSP spokesperson Anthony Petroski.
Petroski declined to say what those techniques were, or over what period of time they were conducted. Records indicate that a detective interviewed Maisonet about the allegations in 2019. He denied them.
“As the interview concluded, Maisonet explained that he had been sexually abused at a young age,” wrote detective Justin Leri, who assumed the investigation in May 2019.
The deacon said he hadn’t abused the boy, but that he had described his own sexual abuse to him in hopes that “he would be careful of sexual predators.”
Petroski declined to say whether Leri continued investigating Maisonet following his denial in the spring of 2019. According to the young girl, the deacon assaulted her in the fall of that same year.
He continued to grope and harass her until the pandemic prevented her family from attending church, she said. She reported the incident to the state police in October 2021, and Leri began his second investigation into Maisonet.
This time, he wiretapped a call between the girl and Maisonet, and she confronted him about the assault. Maisonet’s responses varied from apologies for his behavior to claims that they were accidental, or that he didn’t remember them happening.
Ultimately he said his life was a mess, Leri wrote. He said he was sorry, and that he hadn’t meant to hurt her, and then he asked the teen to meet him in person. Leri arrested Maisonet the next day on three charges related to child sex offense, indecent assault and corruption of a minor.
“The Pennsylvania State Police believes that other minor children may have been victimized by Maisonet,” PSP said in a statement following Maisonet’s arrest in early November.
The teen who reported his alleged assault in 2018 contacted the state police again this month after reading about Maisonet’s arrest in the news. The complainant, who is no longer a minor, agreed to testify in any future proceedings against the deacon.
“Fortunately in Pennsylvania, thanks to changes in the laws, victims of child sexual abuse have many years to bring criminal charges,” Petroski said. “After consultation with the District Attorneys Office, we felt that criminal charges could now be filed on behalf of the victim.”
In 2019, Pennsylvania legislators eliminated the statute of limitations for any new cases of childhood sexual abuse in the state following the release of an explicit grand jury report detailing child rape and sexual misconduct by diocesan leadership across the state.
Maisonet is one of two Monroe County church officials arrested for child sex offenses in the last two months. Gregory Loughney, priest at Most Holy Trinity Catholic parish in Cresco, was arrested in late October for charges related to attempted sexual assault of minors.
The Church of God Holy Ground, where Maisonet served as deacon, shares facilities with the Middle Smithfield Evangelical Presbyterian Church at 5205 Milford Road in East Stroudsburg. In a statement to the Pocono Record, pastor Jeff Bower of the Presbyterian church called Maisonet’s arrest “so disturbing.”
“The pastors and parishioners of Church of God, Holy Ground are wonderful, devout Christians. They are heart-broken and shamed by the actions of a man they thought they knew and respected,” Bower said. “But the Bible warns us that ‘savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.'”
Representatives from the Church of God Holy Ground did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A passage from their website reads: “Many profess to be Christians, but their lives and their priorities indicate otherwise.”
Maisonet remains in the Monroe County jail in lieu of a $200,000 bail. The preliminary hearing to address the new charges against him, which include involuntary deviate sexual assault, indecent assault and corruption of minors, is scheduled to take place Wednesday at 10 a.m. under judge Brian Germano.
Hannah Phillips is the public safety reporter at Pocono Record. Reach her at email@example.com.