Modesto Police Confer with Arizona Counterparts in Clergy Sex Scandal
By Garth Stapley
May 16, 2018
Police in Modesto and Scottsdale are in touch for an investigation of clergy sexual abuse, authorities in Arizona said at a town hall meeting Tuesday.
Heather Graves, spokeswoman for Modesto police, on Wednesday confirmed contact between the two agencies, although the Modesto department has taken no reports of abuse at the hands of former pastor Les Hughey.
Hughey, 65, resigned last month from the megachurch he founded in Scottsdale. He stepped down four days after The Modesto Bee published a report about sexual encounters with young women in his charge four decades earlier when he was a youth pastor at a prominent Modesto evangelical church.
Shortly after The Bee's report, four women came forward with stories that Hughey fondled them when he was their youth pastor in the 1980s at Scottsdale Bible Church. That church launched an independent investigation, and hosted Tuesday's meeting featuring authorities with Scottsdale police and Maricopa County prosecutors, attended by about 60 people.
Attendees said Hughey's whereabouts are not known. Authorities said there is no legal reason to prevent him from moving about, and gave no indication that an arrest is imminent.
Church security asked a couple of Hughey family members to stop filming people outside as they arrived at the meeting. A number in the audience identified themselves as members of Highlands Church, the nondenominational congregation Hughey founded 20 years ago, also in Scottsdale, which hired an outside company as well to investigate allegations against Hughey.
Arizona authorities made it clear Tuesday that people with information about Hughey, whether recent or from many years back, should approach Scottsdale police at 480-312-5000. Modesto police will take reports at 209-572-9500 on alleged crimes in Modesto, Graves said.
"We want to encourage anybody who has anything to say to come to (police)," said Kory Schuknecht, a member of the church's executive leadership team in Scottsdale. "We just want the truth to come out, wherever it leads."
Three Arizona women who came forward in April have moved to other states since their teens and were unable to attend Tuesday. The church allowed an audience member to share real-time proceedings with the women on a conference call from his phone.
"Police and prosecutors are absolutely doing the best they can," Jennifer Lefforge, one of the three, said Wednesday. "I feel extremely supported by police and prosecutors, and have from the beginning."
Rachel Mitchell, who oversees prosecution of sex crimes with the Maricopa County Attorney's office, praised Scottsdale Bible Church for its response after The Bee's report on Hughey. Other churches in similar situations have protected clergy at the expense of victims, she said, according to audience members.
Raised and married in Modesto, Hughey pastored students at Ceres High School for Modesto's First Baptist Church in the 1970s when he had sex with girls in the Ceres group, they said. Church leaders dismissed him but covered up the real reason, some say, and he went on to youth ministry jobs in Sonora, Madera, Arkansas and Arizona. He reoffended in Scottsdale, the Arizona women said; he then briefly worked in Monterey before returning to Scottsdale to found Highlands Church, whose income last year was $6 million.
Modesto's First Baptist became CrossPoint Community Church in 2010.
In a statement for The Bee's April report, Hughey admitted he had "sinned" and confessed the next day to his congregation before his resignation was announced three days after. The scandal since has appeared in numerous shows and publications, including The New York Times.
Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390