By Joe DePriest, McClatchy Newspapers –
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A former Gaston County pastor has denied having illicit sex with two minors in Haiti while he was giving them food and clothing through a church ministry.
In a federal court hearing Monday in Charlotte, Larry Michael Bollinger, 66, pleaded not guilty to the charges.
About 30 of his supporters were in the courtroom, hoping he’d be released from jail until the trial. But a federal judge denied bond and Bollinger remained behind bars.
Prosecutors said four victims were identified, but Bollinger was charged for his conduct with two girls, ages 11 and 12. They said he met the victims, who were from Port-au-Prince, when they came to the Village of Hope, a sub-ministry of The Lazarus Project. A mostly Lutheran ministry, the Lazarus Project runs a vocational school and medical clinic.
According to a bill of indictment, the alleged incidents took place in 2009.
A Lutheran minister for 33 years, Bollinger was pastor at Christ’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Stanley when he and his wife left for Haiti to work with the Lazarus Project in 2004.
A spokesman for The Lazarus Project said Bollinger worked for several years as coordinator, but was removed from the position when the allegations of sexual misconduct arose.
At Monday’s hearing, prosecutors said the allegations surfaced after Bollinger visited a psychotherapist in the U.S. to seek treatment for sex addiction. The therapist then reported the information to federal authorities.
According to prosecutors, the devastating 2010 earthquake delayed the investigation, but eventually the victims were found.
A trial date was set for June 4, but a court official said that will likely be continued.
Among the people on hand to show support for Bollinger at the court hearing was the Rev. Nancy Kraft, pastor of Charlotte’s Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. Bollinger has been a member there for about seven years, she said.
“When he became a missionary we didn’t see him much unless he came back stateside,” Kraft said. “He did wonderful work in Haiti.”
She’s visited Bollinger in the Mecklenburg County Jail. Because he has heart issues, she said, she is concerned about his health.
While members of the congregation don’t approve of what Bollinger may have done, “we’re standing by him,” Kraft said. “He’s someone God loves. Someone who is a child of God. We’re not going to judge him. That’s up to the courts.”