|Details Emerge in Lititz Child-Sex Case
By Janet Kelley and Tom Murse
May 29, 2009
Gregory Nies played Santa Claus in Lititz Springs Park.
He was a youth group leader at the Lititz United Methodist Church, served on Borough Council and ran for mayor three times.
And on Wednesday, Nies was arrested, accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl.
Nies, 56, of South Spruce Street, was charged by borough police with inappropriately touching, hugging and kissing the girl on several occasions when she spent the night in his family's home, according to a police affidavit.
The incidents allegedly happened between October 2002 and June 2004, beginning when the girl was 12, according to court documents, along with Internet chats in which Nies allegedly was seeking "cyber sex" and naked pictures.
The investigation, which began last month when the girl contacted Lititz police, also marked the end of Nies' third attempt to run for mayor of the borough, when he lost the Republican endorsement and suddenly withdrew from the race.
Nies, who is married and has children, surrendered Wednesday morning before District Judge Daniel Garrett, accompanied by his attorney, Barry Goldman, to face charges of aggravated indecent assault, unlawful contact with a minor, indecent assault and corruption of minors.
Garrett released Nies on $150,000 bail, pending a hearing, but ordered him to have no contact with the victim and no unsupervised contact with anyone under the age of 18.
The arrest of yet another man in the Lititz area on allegations of inappropriate sexual contact with young girls has Lancaster County residents shaking their heads.
In the past four years, a coach, a band director and an assistant music instructor at Warwick School District in Lititz, have been charged by police with sex-related crimes. A science teacher resigned, but no charges were filed because the student was 18, according to police.
Last Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer even ran a story focusing on "the anomaly" of such crimes in what they called "the storybook-cute hamlet of Lititz."
Police filed two search warrants before Garrett's office, seeking to confiscate computers from Nies' home and work.
The search warrants indicate Lititz police were investigating allegations of corruption of minors and unlawful contact with a minor.
In those court documents, police indicated they had tracked Internet conversations in which Nies logged on more than 500 times between February and April 2009 posing as a teenage girl.
In the Internet conversations, according to the search warrants, Nies was using his alias to chat about sexual experiences and seek naked photos.
Nies has not been charged with any crimes other than the contact with the one girl, according to police.
And, Lititz Police Detective John Schofield noted today, there were no indications that Nies was suspected of any wrongdoing when he was working as Santa Claus or at the church.
Nies had been employed at Derck & Edson Associates, an architectural firm, but is currently not working, according to Goldman, and he has left his position with the Lititz church.
According to the affidavit, Nies admitted to kissing and touching the girl, the affidavit says, but not to the more extreme "sexual acts" alleged by police.
The two met through their church and families, police said, and the girl stayed at Nies' home when her family was out of town.
The girl told police that Nies had sexual-type contact with her eight times when she was spending the evening at his home.
In addition to kissing and hugging, when they were alone together in the basement, according to court documents, the girl said Nies repeatedly had sexual contact with her, touching her private areas, telling her "this is what dads do."
Afterward, the girl told police, Nies would later contact the girl in an online chat room, tell her he wanted to have sexual intercourse with her, as well as have "cyber sex," according to the affidavit.
"It's very traumatic and unpleasant business, all around," Nies' attorney said. "These are very ugly cases."
Goldman said that his client is disputing some of the times and allegations.
Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman called the charges "obviously extremely disturbing and we are dedicated to seeing that justice is done in this case."
"Although there is no way anyone can foresee all betrayals of trust such as is alleged here," Stedman said, "this arrest does serve as a harsh reminder that we must be extremely cautious and vigilant in deciding whom we entrust our children to."
The Rev. Rene Perez, senior pastor of Lititz United Methodist Church, issued a statement this afternoon, describing Nies as a former member of the church, who also was a part-time paid youth worker in the church. In 2006, Nies resigned his position and left the church.
"At Lititz United Methodist Church, our first concern is for the safety and well-being of all God's children," Perez wrote. "In light of this concern, we have regular trainings for volunteer and paid workers with children and youth to educate them on Safe Sanctuary practices."
Safe Sanctuaries, Perez explained, is a church-required program that requires current child-abuse history clearances and state police criminal background checks for all who work with children and youths.
While the checks are completed every three years, Perez wrote, when Nies was working in the youth program, his clearance and background checks were valid and up-to-date.
Members of the Lititz United Methodist Church, Perez said, are cooperating with police and other legal entities in the investigation and "praying for all involved in this situation."
Nies had run twice unsuccessfully for mayor of Lititz, but tried again this year when incumbent Russell L. Pettyjohn announced he was stepping down.
The Warwick Republican Committee endorsed Nies when he decided to again run for mayor until becoming aware of the charges, which were pending at the time, according to the committee chairman.
Jeff Conrad said he found out about the search warrant executed at Nies' home early in May.
Conrad, a defense attorney and former prosecutor, immediately confronted Nies on the telephone about the investigation.
"Everyone's innocent until proven guilty," Conrad said today, but when he learned of the search warrant and the nature of the potential charges against Nies, "I knew something there was enough to pull the endorsement and believe that was the responsible thing to do."
Conrad said the committee feels Nies "betrayed" them.
"Nobody — absolutely nobody — had any knowledge of this. He was someone very well-regarded within the community. He spent time working as the town Santa," Conrad said. "We thought and I know people in the community thought he was an upstanding man.
"It was very shocking to everybody."
Staff writer Janet Kelley can be reached at jkelley@LNPnews.com or 481-6026.
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