Turlock — Among the crop of tenure-track professors hired this fall at California State University, Stanislaus, is a sociology lecturer believed to have been part of a cult accused of abusing children and prostituting women.
Barry Gerard-Prendergast, 57, is teaching six classes in his first semester on campus as a temporary, full-time instructor.
University officials would not comment on Gerard-Prendergast's past, citing confidentially restrictions. Nor would they comment on whether they were reviewing his background.
The Bee began an investigation after an anonymous caller told the paper a student had found links on the Internet between Gerard-Prendergast and a group formerly known as the Children of God.
Now called The Family International, the group is described as a Christian missionary organization. But people who have left the group say it's a cult and have alleged that members have taken part in prostitution, sexual acts between adults and children, and child pornography.
According to stories in the Houston Chronicle, former members of the group allege GerardPrendergast ran a Family "victor camp," a children's indoctrination site in Italy in the 1980s. In 1999 newspaper stories from Texas and Colorado, Gerard-Prendergast denied any affiliation with The Family.
Gerard-Prendergast did not respond to repeated efforts by The Bee to talk with him:
He did not return calls to his office and home Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Monday.
A reporter went to his classes Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, but he was not at any of them.
Visits to his home and office were unsuccessful; a woman who said she was his roommate at a house in Turlock said she had let him know The Bee wanted to speak with him. "He knows you're looking for him," the woman said Wednesday.
An attorney who contacted The Bee's editor Friday said GerardPrendergast did not want to speak with a reporter.
At Stanislaus State, sociology department office staff said GerardPrendergast had been on campus last week, which was the week before final exams.
Originally from England, GerardPrendergast has a master of arts degree from the University of Exeter, according to a Stanislaus State newsletter.
While declining to discuss Gerard-Prendergast specifically, a university official said faculty candidates undergo interviews, reference checks and passport review. Although fingerprinting is mandatory for some administrators, it is not required for faculty, said Kristin Olsen, director of public and institutional relations.
"The university conducts thorough and extensive background checks," Ol-sen said.
Internet searches have not been standard procedure, but she said "in the last six months to a year, it's beginning to take place more and more."
Academic departments usually conduct faculty searches, she said. Sociol-ogy department Chairman Paul O'Brien would not comment on GerardPrendergast.
In a Google search for "Barry Gerard-Prendergast," several links turn up between his name, The Family and the Children of God.
Searching public records, The Bee matched Gerard-Prendergast's birth date and other information to that of Zack Prendergast, who lived in Colorado from 1993 to this year.
Ex-members of The Family who knew Gerard-Prendergast connected him to the group, according to postings on XFamily.org, a collaboratively edited online encyclopedia similar to Wikipedia. The site said the man was known by several names, including Barry Gerard Prendergast, Zach, Zack or Zacchaeus Star.
The Bee compared a photo on XFamily.org of a man identified as Zack Prendergast with a photo of Gerard-Prendergast in an October newsletter from Stani-slaus State. There is a strong resemblance between the two men.
Before moving to Turlock, Gerard-Prendergast developed a parenting program for teen fathers in Colorado. Business records show the nonprofit business dissolved in 2002.
Under the name Zack Prendergast, he and his wife, Naomi, received the National Parent of the Year Award from the National Parents Day Foundation in 1999.
The couple have 10 girls and two boys — three of them adopted, according to the Houston Chronicle. Questions from the paper about Prendergast's involvement with The Family in the 1980s led him to return the award, a foundation spokesman told the Chronicle. Prendergast cited "some definite misunderstandings and distortions" that were unfounded, the paper said, but the couple did not deny membership in the group.
It is unclear whether Naomi Prendergast or any of their children moved to Turlock with Gerard-Prendergast.
The Bee found no information on his whereabouts immediately before he moved to Colorado. Nor did it find any evidence that he has ever been arrested or convicted of any crimes, or how long he was involved with The Family.
One of his students described him as a great teacher who is flexible. Stephanie Morris, a junior sociology major, said she knows little of his personal life. His religious beliefs have not been a factor in class, she said.
"It hasn't affected his teaching," she said.
Gerard-Prendergast's classes include introduction to sociology, research methods and classical theory, according to the Stanislaus State fall schedule. He's set to teach one introduction to sociology class next semester.