Hammond megachurch pastor Schaap could get 10 years for sex with teen girl
By Teresa Auch Schultz Sun-Times Media September 19, 2012 7:18PM
Family of former Hammond Baptist pastor Jack Schaap leave the Federal Courthouse in Hammond after Schaap's initial appearance before Judge Paul Cherry on Sept. 19. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 21, 2012 3:03PM
The former minister of a Northwest Indiana megachurch plans to plead guilty to transporting a minor across state lines for sexual activity.
Jack Schaap, formerly of First Baptist Church of Hammond, said in a statement he was making the plea to spare the teen girl and his own family the trauma of a long legal battle.
Schaap’s attorney Paul Stracci read the statement Wednesday after Schaap’s initial appearance in federal court in Hammond, where he agreed not to contest being held in prison pending his change-of-plea hearing and sentencing. He could be sentenced to 10 years of prison in the agreement.
“Rather than cause further harm by dragging all those affected through a long legal process, I’ve decided to accept responsibility,” Stracci read from Schaap’s statement.
From June 1 through July 31, Schaap took the girl from Indiana to Will County in Illinois and Wexford County in Michigan, authorities said.
Stracci said that his client asked people to pray for their own families and the victim.
“It’s always distressing when a spiritual leader acts in a way contrary to his beliefs and teachings,” Stracci said from the statement, “but spiritual leaders are men, susceptible to sickness, weakness, stumbling and sinning.”
Schaap, wearing a plaid gray jacket and a dark patterned tie with his hair slicked over, spoke during his initial appearance before U.S. Judge Paul Cherry in a loud, clear voice.
“Unfortunately, yes,” he said when Cherry asked him if he understood the punishment he is facing.
On Tuesday, Schaap was charged, the same day his plea agreement was filed. According to the agreement, federal attorneys will recommend Schaap spend 10 years in prison, the mandatory minimum. He also must register as a sex offender and pay an undetermined amount of restitution to the victim. He also has to forfeit his iPod, iPhone, an Olympus digital recorder, two flash drives, a Motorola Razr cell phone and a Canon digital camera.
In exchange, prosecutors in Illinois, Wisconsin and Lake County will not press any more charges.
News of the affair came out shortly after in the beginning of August when the church, one of the largest in the nation, announced the deacon board had fired him because of “sin.” Church officials then confirmed that he had a relationship with a 17-year-old girl. At the time, church officials said they did not think Schaap committed a crime but had turned the case over to the Lake County sheriff’s department just in case.
First Baptist Church spokesman Eddie Wilson said the church will issue a formal statement, but for the moment he said it’s a sad day for the church.
“Everything has happened so fast, everyone’s still in a state of shock. It seems surreal,” Wilson said. “We’re sad for the victim and we’re sad for (Schaap’s) family.”
Wilson said it’s not for the church to decide what his punishment is, but that it did what it felt was right in turning the evidence to authorities.
The church had hired the Christian Law Association to conduct a third-party investigation with other church members to determine if anyone else had been victimized. The 100-plus page report was turned over to the church’s elder council and the sheriff’s department, Wilson said.
The change-of-plea hearing has been set for Sept. 26.
Contributing: Michelle L. Quinn