Pastor, Deacons to Surrender

By John Ford
Neosho Daily News
August 17, 2006

PINEVILLE - A McDonald County church pastor, his wife and two deacons accused of child sexual abuse are expected to turn themselves in to authorities Monday afternoon.

Gregg Sweeten, chief deputy with the McDonald County Sheriff's Department, said Wednesday an agreement had been reached with the group's attorney, Robert Evenson, that Raymond Lambert, pastor of the Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church, his wife and two deacons would turn themselves over to the sheriff's department sometime Monday afternoon.

Lambert, 51, his wife, Patty, 49, and deacons Tom Epling, 51, and Paul Epling, 53, are accused of child abuse charges stemming from incidents which allegedly occurred between 1977 and 2004.

Raymond Lambert faces a Class A felony count of first degree child molestation, four Class D felony counts of second degree child molestation, and a Class C felony charge of second degree statutory sodomy.

His wife faces a Class B felony charge of endangering the welfare of a child in a ritual or ceremony and a Class D felony count of second degree child molestation.

Tom Epling has been charged with five unclassified felony counts of first degree statutory sodomy and Paul Epling faces two unclassified felony charges of first degree statutory rape and five unclassified felony counts of first degree statutory sodomy.

In a probable cause statement, Deputy Mike Le Sueur, an investigator with the McDonald County Sheriff's Department, said Raymond Lambert, fondled a 12-year-old girl in 1987. As time progressed, the deputy said in his report, the girl was required to perform oral sex on Raymond Lambert. The incidents happened repeatedly until 2005, when the girl left the church compound.

Le Sueur said in a probable cause statement that Patty Lambert, compelled a 16-year-old church member to strip, whereupon she was allegedly fondled by Raymond Lambert while Patty Lambert was naked in the bed with them. The deputy added that in permitting the contact between the pastor and the young church member, Patty Lambert endangered the welfare of the teenager.

Le Sueur said in a probable cause statement that Tom Epling fondled a church member between 1976 and 1978, beginning when the child was only four years old.

And according to a probable cause statement, Paul Epling reportedly fondled the same child during 1977 and 1978, telling her "he was preparing her body for service to God." When the girl was 10, the statement concluded, Paul Epling allegedly attempted sexual intercourse with her, stopping "only after she protested due to pain."

In a telephone interview Tuesday night, Le Sueur said several former church members had come forward in the past six months, claiming they had been molested for several years. The deputy said incest was involved, adding he understood that this was the third generation of church officials who participated in child sexual abuse.

Bond has been set at $50,000 each for Raymond Lambert, Paul Epling and Tom Epling. Patty Lambert's bond was set at $30,000, according to court documents.

Court dates for the four have not been set as of mid-Thursday morning.

Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church sits on a large tract of land near Powell, surrounded by more than two dozen homes of church members. The area has been described as a "compound" by both church members and long-time McDonald County residents.


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