At a hearing Friday morning, Colleton County Chief Magistrate Richard Wood denied bond for the self-proclaimed prophet Ralph Gordon Stair who leads a religious community in Canadys called the Overcomer Ministry.
Wood set a $50,000 bond for each of the two breach of trust charges, but for the two second-degree criminal sexual conduct charges, he told the 69 - year - old minister a circuit court judge would have to set bond.
"I won't do it," Wood said. At press time Monday, a second hearing had not been scheduled.
When offered a court -appointed attorney, one of Stair's followers Chip Landry spoke for the minister. "We'll probably hire one if we can go that route," Landry said. Stair's wife Teresa and another follower were also present at the hearing.
South Carolina Law Enforcement investigator Travis Avant requested a "substantial surety bond," as his investigation was on going and it was "likely there will be more charges similar to those in the coming weeks." Stair has no prior criminal record, Avant said.
Avant began investigating this case about a month ago, he said. The two criminal sexual conduct charges were brought by two girls, who moved to the farm where they say Stair had sex with them over 70 times against their will.
The two breach of trust charges are brought on the behalf of Lawrence and Linda Skenandore, former followers of Stair who left the farm in November 2000 after being there only a few months. They say Stair offered to invest their retirement savings, which included the sums of $3,079.07 and $26,556.40 for them. But after the Skenandores left, the money disappeared.
Now living in North Carolina, the Skenandores began listening to Stair's radio ministry in May 1994. Immediately, Linda Skenandore began sending him as much money as she could afford, she said.
In March 2000, the family of four made their first visit to the farm.
"When we got ready to leave, they told us the girls were staying," Linda Skenandore said. "He (Stair) said as far as we were concerned, this was their new home. We didn't know when we would see our girls again."
Obeying the prophet, the couple left their then 19 and 20-year-old daughters and went back to North Carolina.
While they were there, Regina Skenandore Belford, who is the younger of the two girls and currently lives in Arkansas, says Stair made advancements on her. On several occasions, he asked for a hug, but he received more than an embrace.
"He ran his hand all the way down my back to my backside, my butt," she said. "I thought at first it was an accident, maybe he didn't mean to do it.
"I was so na´ve to what he was doing that I didn't realize he wanted more than a hug."
Linda Skenandore says she and her husband drove from North Carolina nearly every weekend to see their daughters and to go to church services. With each visit, something seemed to be more and more out of the usual.
"I was beginning to feel an evil presence in that place," she said. "You just sensed a wickedness. You just know it was horrible and evil."
Despite her concerns, the couple joined their daughters in August 2000. Though the thought of living in a religious community appealed to the Skenandores, the environment was less than heavenly.
It's not decent for anyone to live down there," she said. "It's not decent for the roaches and rats that live there.
"I've never seen reaches that big in my life. You could hear them crawling at night. But, it wasn't the roaches that scared me, it was the mice."
Shortly after arriving. Linda Skenandore says Stair approached them about his investing the couple's retirement for them.
Ralph told my husband that he knew of two places that it could be rolled over," she said. Stair gave them an account number, and they called the bank to have the funds electronically transferred.
"When we got ready to leave, he gave us a portion of that money back," she said. "It was not the IRA. The money he gave us was to get back on our feet."
Though Belford left shortly after her parents did and married her husband in September 2001, her sister Angela is still living in the community.
Though they were extremely close growing up, Belford says Stair drove them apart.
"Me and her were just best friends growing up," she said. In light of the charges brought against Stair, both Linda Skenandore and Belford wonder if they will ever be able to speak to her again.