Pastor, Deacons Charged

By John Ford
Neosho Daily News
August 16, 2006

Pineville - Sexual abuse charges spanning four decades were filed Tuesday against a McDonald County pastor, his wife, and two church deacons.

The charges were filed by Steve Geeding, McDonald County prosecutor, and Daniel Bagley, the county's assistant prosecutor.

Raymond Lambert, 51, pastor of the Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church, located in Washburn, has been charged with one count of first degree child molestation, four counts of second degree child molestation and three counts of statutory sodomy in the second degree for events which happened between Feb. 15, 1995, and April 4, 2004.

Lambert's wife, Patty Lambert, 49, faces a count of second degree child molestation and a count of first degree endangerment of a child in a ritual or ceremony which took place on April 3, 2004.

Tom Epling, 51, was charged with five counts of first degree statutory sodomy for events happening between July 16, 1977, and July 15, 1982.

And Paul Epling, 53, faces two counts of first degree statutory rape and five counts of first degree statutory sodomy for events which happened between Nov. 7, 1978, and July 15, 1983.

Warrants for the arrests of the individuals were issued Tuesday as well, the prosecutor said in a prepared statement. However, McDonald County Sheriff Don Schlessman reported his office had not received the warrants as of late Tuesday afternoon, nor had any arrests been made as of Tuesday night.

Geeding was not available for additional comment Tuesday evening.

Schlessman said Deputy Mike LeSueur, an investigator with the McDonald County Sheriff's Department, had more information on the case.

In a telephone interview Tuesday night, LeSueur said several former members of the church had come forward in the last six months, claiming they had been molested for several years. They alleged the abuse started when they were children and continued into adulthood, he said. One victim said the abuse started at the age of 4. LeSueur said incest was involved.

"My understanding is this is the third generation of pastors who have participated in this kind of abuse," LeSueur said in a telephone interview Tuesday night. "One of the victims said to me, 'Why would a man plant a fruit tree and then not sample the first offering of fruit from that tree.' "

Charges against Raymond Lambert allege the incidents took place on May 31, 1995; July 4, 2000; March 5, 2001; April 3, 2002; and April 3, 2004. Charges against Mrs. Lambert say the incidents she was allegedly involved in took place on April 3, 2004.

In charges against Paul Epling filed Tuesday, the prosecutors listed the dates of occurrences as Nov. 7, 1978, and on July 15 of 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982 and 1983.

And on charges alleged against Tom Epling, the incidents allegedly took place on July 15 of 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981 and 1982.

The church and more than two dozen surrounding homes has been described as a "compound" by long-time McDonald County residents, as well as church members, LeSueur said. The Lamberts reside at 589 Cecil Epling Lane, while Tom Epling lives at 584 Cecil Epling Way and his brother, Paul Epling, resides at 362 Cecil Epling Way.

Court dates for the four have not been set as of late Tuesday evening. However, McDonald County Associate Circuit Court Judge John LePage has been assigned the case.

If convicted, Raymond Lambert could face 10 to 30 years or life in prison for the first degree child molestation charge; up to seven years in prison for the second degree statutory sodomy count; and up to five years on each of the second degree child molestation charges.

Patty Lambert faces five to 15 years in prison on the child endangerment charge and up to five years on the second degree child molestation count.

As the charges against Eplings are unclassified felony counts, their sentences are up to a judge or jury to decide.


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