Note: This article has been republished with the permission
of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Nearly every Friday night, Pastor Richard L. Jones led volunteers - often teenagers visiting from churches around the region - through St. Louis streets seeking out homeless to help.
During their weekend visits, the teens would spend days and nights at the St. Louis Dream Center, where they knew Jones as one of several pastors.
What they may not have known is that Jones, 39, is also a registered sex offender.
But Jones' employer - Joyce Meyer Ministries of Fenton - knew Jones previously had gone to prison for sexually assaulting two teen boys. The boys were members of a youth group at another church where he had served as pastor.
The ministry said Jones quit his job last week, after the Post-Dispatch began inquiring about his criminal background. The ministry also said it has changed its policy and no longer will hire anyone convicted of child molestation or abuse to work where children are present.
The ministry hired Jones when he got out of prison five years ago. In May 2001, it assigned Jones to work at the St. Louis Dream Center, an inner-city church and social service program just west of Fairground Park at the corner of Margaretta and Clarence avenues.
In August, a Post-Dispatch journalist accompanied Jones as he led a dozen teenage volunteers around St. Louis searching for homeless people. Last month, Jones and the center were featured in a Post-Dispatch article about Joyce Meyer Ministries and the Dream Center, which was founded by Meyer.
Meyer says she was a victim of childhood sexual abuse. She, her husband and a son sit on the board that oversees the center's operations and hiring.
After the ministry learned that the Post-Dispatch was looking into Jones' criminal past, Jones said the ministry instructed him to remain off work until further notice. When reporters went to Jones' home, Jones said the ministry had instructed him not to comment and referred all questions to Joyce Meyer Ministries.
On Friday, the ministry said in written answers to Post-Dispatch questions that Jones has left the Dream Center to "pursue other ministry opportunities." The ministry acknowledged it was aware of Jones' criminal background before it hired Jones.
"At Joyce Meyer Ministries, we believe in restoration and in rehabilitation of people - giving them a second chance," the ministry said in its statement. "We go to considerable lengths to make sure we have a first-rate security system to ensure that no minor or adult is at risk."
While the ministry had allowed Jones to work with teens, the ministry said that it believes Jones was not a danger to the children because he was never alone with them. It said that there have been no complaints about Jones' conduct while working for the ministry.
"We want to assure the community that we are committed to ensuring the safety of everyone at the St. Louis Dream Center," the ministry said.
In 1994, a jury convicted Jones of 27 counts of deviate sexual assault on two teen boys. At the time, Jones was pastor of the now-defunct Family Life Church in what is now Park Hills, Mo., about 40 miles south of St. Louis in St. Francois County. The boys were members of the youth group Jones headed.
In 1990 and 1991, Jones had spent considerable time with the teens, playing games and taking them on outings, according to court records on file at the Cape Girardeau County Courthouse in Jackson, Mo.
Several members of the youth group testified that during that time, Jones often drove them to the St. Louis area, including the Metro East, where he showed the teens strip clubs, gay bars and prostitutes. They said Jones sometimes took them to Forest Park, where they watched gay men perform sex acts.
One of the teens Jones was accused of molesting told the Post-Dispatch in a recent interview that he was struggling with his mother's second divorce when Jones befriended him. He was 14 at the time.
"He acted like he was 14 years old, but he had a car, money," said the victim, now 28. "He makes you feel like you fit in."
The victim asked that his name not be used in this article. The Post-Dispatch typically does not identify the victims of sex crimes.
The victim testified at the trial that one night Jones invited him to spend the night at his home. He told the court that as the two watched the "Star Trek" television show, Jones began touching him with his foot and then masturbated him under a blanket on the living room couch.
A second boy, 15 at the time, testified that Jones did the same to him some months later. Both boys testified that over the next several months Jones led them into multiple sexual encounters.
The 15-year-old testified that Jones told him that sex with boys was sanctioned by the Bible - that there are biblical references to a king taking boys into battle to use them as warriors and sexual partners.
After the jury convicted Jones, the St. Francois County judge who presided over the case sentenced him to 189 years in prison. As he sentenced Jones, Circuit Judge Kenneth Pratte called the sexual assaults "the most heinous types of crimes I can imagine."
"Anyone who clothes themselves in God - minister, counselor, whatever it may be - and uses that position in a fashion that I'm satisfied you did, deserves to be punished and deserves to be punished accordingly."
Soon after his trial, Jones began working with his lawyers and the Rev. Larry Rice on an appeal. Rice, head of the New Life Evangelistic Center in St. Louis, said last week that he had been appalled at the length of Jones' sentence and offered to help him.
In 1996, the Missouri Court of Appeals overturned Jones' conviction. The appeals court found that Pratte had wrongly allowed testimony from a Farmington police officer that Jones had been accused of sexual contact at his former church in Springfield, Mo., as well as testimony from church members about other allegations for which Jones had never been charged.
Jones was freed as he awaited a new trial. He took a job with Rice's ministry, although Rice said he made sure that Jones did not work with children. Rice also gave him a piece of property on a gravel road called God's Country Lane near his TV tower in Jefferson County. Jones built his home there, which is next door to the home of Terry Gwaltney, the Dream Center's senior pastor.
Just before the new trial began, Jones pleaded guilty to two counts of deviate sexual assault involving the two boys. In a plea bargain, prosecutors agreed to drop the remaining 25 counts and Jones was sentenced to six years in prison.
On Nov. 19, 1998, Jones was paroled from prison under community supervision. In June 2000, Joyce Meyer Ministries said it hired Jones as a telephone operator. It said the ministry was fully aware of Jones' criminal background.
In November 2000, the state dropped its supervision of Jones. And, in May 2001, the ministry moved Jones to the Dream Center, where he began working as a pastor and team leader for the homeless and prostitute ministries. Jones began taking groups of volunteers of teens and adults around St. Louis as part of that work.
The ministry said that it hired Jones knowing his background because he had made a "great turnaround in his life." It said the ministry also had consulted with Rice about Jones.
But Rice said no one from Meyer's ministry ever asked about Jones' background.
"If they would have, I would have encouraged them not to have him work around children," said Rice, whose TV station airs Joyce Meyer's television show.
On a recent evening, one of Jones' victims stared at a photo of the pastor working with teens in August. A boyish sadness fell over him.
"The idea that he can even come back to a church to work after pleading guilty to something like this is just wrong," the man said. "I lost everything, all my friends. My life has never been the same. It probably never will."
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