New Jersey Youth Pastor Pleads Guilty to Multiple Sex Abuse Crimes Against Minors

The Roys Report [Chicago IL]

January 11, 2023

By Josh Shepherd

A former minister at a New Jersey evangelical church has pleaded guilty to multiple sex abuse crimes, admitting that he blackmailed teenage boys into performing explicit sex acts via webcam.

During a hearing last week at Burlington County Superior Court in Mount Holly, New Jersey, Sean Higgins, 32, of Palmyra, pleaded guilty to four counts of Endangering the Welfare of Children. In exchange for the plea, Higgins is expected to serve 27 years in a New Jersey state prison. Higgins’ sentencing is scheduled for March 3.

According to a grand jury indictment last August, prosecutors say Higgins victimized at least 13 boys, aged 12 to 17, who resided in Alabama, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Tennessee.

At the time of the crimes, Higgins was on staff as youth pastor and worship leader at Harbor Baptist Church in Hainesport, according to the Burlington County Prosecutor. He also taught at Harbor Baptist Academy, a private K-12 school operating in the church building.

In a statement, the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office summarized the results of their 14-month investigation. During multiple incidents in 2020, Higgins assumed the persona of teenage female “Julie Miller” on Snapchat and Instagram, the statement said. It added that Higgins sent each victim a nude image of an unidentified female and solicited nude photos of the victims.

Higgins then threatened to send the victim’s nude photo to the victim’s online friend list “if the child did not engage in additional sexual acts on camera for Higgins’ sick gratification,” according to a previous statement from Burlington County prosecutor Scott Coffina.

Videos reviewed by prosecutors showed the teenage victims pleading via webcam to be allowed to end the sexual conduct. According to the indictment, Higgins replied that “the recordings he was making of the incident (would) be sent to their list of friends.”

Prosecutors say Higgins did not make physical contact with his victims.

According to the church’s archived website, Sean Higgins was hired as the youth director of Harbor Baptist Church in January 2012. It adds that Higgins, a husband and father of one, “leads an exciting teen program and truly cares for the needs of our youth.”

Higgins’ brother, Dennis Higgins, has been senior pastor of Harbor Baptist Church since 2008. The church also employed a third brother, Patrick, according to the archived website. The church was founded in 1997 by the late father of the three brothers, Dennis Higgins, Sr.

The Roys Report reached out to Harbor Baptist Church but did not receive a response.

In a statement, the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office said that the crimes Higgins committed “did not involve any members of the church congregation or students at the school.”

Higgins was arrested and initially charged on October 29, 2020, with a total of 28 sex abuse-related crimes against minors. Those charges included six counts of manufacturing child sexual abuse material and distribution of child sex abuse material. Higgins has been incarcerated at Burlington County Jail since then.