Porn Charges against Pastor Detailed

By Rob Seal
Daily Progress [Charlottesville VA]
July 20, 2006

Albemarle County authorities discovered about 100 pornographic images of girls who appear to be underage on the computer of a former Charlottesville pastor, according to police testimony Wednesday.

Gregory M. Briehl, 52, was arrested Tuesday and charged with 20 counts of possession of child pornography and two counts of videotaping people without their consent.

Until March, Briehl, of 5360 Quint Field Road, was associate pastor of Peace Lutheran Church. The professional counselor also spent a year-and-a-half as the church's acting pastor, starting in 2000.

On Wednesday, a Juvenile and Domestic Relations judge granted Briehl a $100,000 bond on the child pornography charges at a hearing attended by several of Briehl's supporters.

Tom Leland, senior minister at University Baptist Church, said during the hearing that he'd referred more than 20 people to Briehl's counseling service, and told the judge he was willing to pay Briehl's bond.

"Of all the persons I've sent to him, I've never had a negative experience with any of them," Leland said in court.

Briehl's neighbors also offered to let him live with them if he were released.

The former pastor watched the hearing via a live video feed but did not speak. He remained in the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail on Wednesday evening, jail officials said.

In May, Albemarle County police searched Briehl's home, a guesthouse and his business at First Stone Counseling Center. Authorities seized computers, disks, a security camera and video footage.

Authorities discovered about 400 pornographic images on the confiscated computer, including 100 images suspected to depict girls under 18, according to Albemarle County police Detective Chuck Marshall.

"[Briehl] told me that most of the time he was involved in this activity it was because of stressful situations in his life," Marshall said in court.

He said the images were not of prepubescent children and did not depict sexual acts.

"[Briehl] expressed liking to view 14-, 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds," Marshall testified.

Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Jon Zug told the judge that he presented some evidence against Briehl during the bond hearing to show the strength of the prosecution's case.

"These are not just allegations here," Zug said.

Defense Attorney Rhonda Quagliana said in court that Briehl is not a risk to society, and said there is no evidence that her client ever harmed anyone.

Earlier Wednesday, a General District Court judge granted Briehl a separate $2,500 bond on two misdemeanor charges of videotaping people without their consent.

In May, county police received a tip that a video camera had been hidden in Briehl's home and used to film children from his church in "private situations," according to a search warrant affidavit.

The videotaping charges do not involve children, police said. Footage confiscated from Briehl's home, however, seems to depict both children and adults, and includes one film that appears to have been recorded inside Peace Lutheran Church, Marshall said.

The video taken inside the church doesn't depict nudity, but "the focus of the video is on private parts," Marshall said in court.

Albemarle police Lt. John Teixeira said Tuesday that police anticipate additional charges in the case, and asked anyone who may have been a victim to call Marshall at (434) 296-5807.

The arrest has elicited a strong response from the church's 400-member congregation and from Briehl's former counseling patients.

"He in no way acted inappropriately in the three years that I was a member at the church," said Denise Raimey, who also went to Briehl for counseling. "He is not that kind of person, and I would never ever have been uncomfortable leaving my children with him."

During an at-times tearful telephone interview Wednesday, Raimey, a Keswick resident, said she doesn't accept the allegations against her former pastor.

"Unless I heard it from Greg's mouth, I would continue to disbelieve it," she said.

News of the arrest prompted a very different reaction from Christiann DeFries, a member at Peace Lutheran.

"Certainly I am a Christian, and we have all forgiven him," DeFries said during a telephone interview Wednesday. "But a church is part of your family, and there is an incredible profound sadness when something like this happens in any family or church. I feel really betrayed."

In a written statement, Pastor John Herman said Tuesday that he was not aware of any incidents of abuse inside the church, and said Briehl had not been left alone with children.

DeFries, however, said Briehl frequently volunteered to help chaperone youth activities at the church.

"There are a lot of people who should sit down and talk with their children," she said.

Briehl, who is married and has three school-age children, left the church in March after allegations surfaced of an alleged affair with a consenting adult parishioner, Herman said Tuesday.

A preliminary hearing on the pornography charges is scheduled for Aug. 7 in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.

A hearing on the videotaping charges is scheduled for Sept. 19 in General District Court.

Contact Rob Seal at (434) 978-7265 or


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