WHTM-TV - ABC 27 [Harrisburg PA]
February 1, 2024
By Seth Kaplan and George Stockburger
Pennsylvania State Police have charged Rhett Hintze, a lobbyist and “stake president” of seven area Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-Day Saints churches, with being aware of but not reporting child sex assault allegations against a Lebanon County church leader.
The charges were filed on Wednesday and Hintze is scheduled to be arraigned Friday.
Police expect Hintze, 50, to turn himself in. He’s charged with “failure to report or refer” allegations, a third-degree felony. In Pennsylvania, third-degree felonies generally can carry prison terms of up to seven years.
According to police documents, Hintze’s church leadership role made him a “mandated reporter” under Pennsylvania’s Child Protective Services Law, which dates to 1975 but expanded in 2014 following the Jerry Sandusky scandal to include more categories of people as mandated reporters and to increase the penalties for not reporting allegations.
Shawn Cory Gooden, who police say held leadership positions with the church’s Lebanon ward, was charged in 2022 in Virginia with sexually assaulting a minor in the Woodbridge area and 2023 in Pennsylvania with sexually assaulting a minor in Berks County. Police said the assaults happened between 1997 and 2000, and the victims were between 8 and 12 years old when the assaults occurred.
State Police also detailed one sexual assault allegation involving Gooden and a 12-year-old boy at French Creek State Park in 2000.
Police say Hintze, who was also chief operating officer of the Harrisburg-based Bravo Group (which tells abc27 News he is on leave as of late Wednesday), knew about the allegations against Gooden as early as October 2020, while Gooden was a church leader and nearly two years before he was arrested. State Police say Gooden and the victim “had disclosed the sexual assault” to Hintze, who “failed to report the abuse to authorities.”
Gooden was 47 years old when he was first arrested in 2022.
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints works actively to prevent abuse. Our hearts ache for victims of abuse, and the Church is committed to addressing such incidents wherever they are found,” the church wrote in a statement provided by Hintze’s attorney. “The Church trains its leaders and supports their lawful efforts. The charges now brought by local prosecutors for failing to report the abuse are misguided, and the Church will vigorously defend him.”