Fairview Heights church member accused of sexually abusing boys

News-DemocratFebruary 13, 2014 

PROVIDED/BND

A Shiloh man has been accused of sexually abusing several children he met through a Fairview Heights church.

Jeffrey Strait, 47, of the 2700 block of Lake Lucerne Drive, has been charged with four counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse with a victim older than 13 but younger than 17. The four counts are related to the same victim.

Since the initial complaint, five other males have come forward with similar claims, which are being investigated. Most of the alleged victims who have come forward are now adults, but the abuses occurred when they were juveniles, Shiloh Police Chief James Stover said.

The investigation began last week after a minor male made an allegation against Strait. Police said Strait, who was described as a "church deacon or youth minister" at the First Baptist Church, 10401 Lincoln Trail, used his position of authority to lure his victims.

Straight is in custody in the St. Clair County Jail on $500,000 bail.

The church's senior pastor denies that Strait had an official role with the church and said he was only a member of the congregation.

"He has no title and was not in any official capacity," First Baptist Church Senior Pastor Jim Kerr said in an emailed statement. He declined to be interviewed or answer questions.

But police said the five victims were consistent in their statements that they believed Strait to be a deacon and youth minister who used his position to manipulate his victims.

"Mr. Strait has been very active in his role with the church," Stover said. "We're concerned that there could be other victims out there."

"We acknowledge that an individual who attends First Baptist Church has been charged with aggravated criminal sexual abuse," Kerr said in his statement. "As a church family, we grieve for anyone who may have been victimized and pray for total healing. Our compassion goes out to the family of the individual charged.

Kerr said in a follow-up email that he didn't know how long Strait had been with the church.

"He is not or has not ever been a youth minister with us or anywhere to my knowledge," Kerr wrote.

Police said the abuse took place during the past three to four years. Stover said officers think any abuse took place at Strait's home, not at the church.

"Church leaders are cooperating completely," Stover said. "There is no sign that anyone was aware of what was going on."

Police described Strait as "initially cooperative."

Stover said he is not convinced that there are no other victims. Authorities said they were uncertain how long Strait had been associated with the church.

"We still have some names, some other kids we need to look at and have a conversation with." he said. "We're trying to follow up with information as we get it."

Anyone with information about the case or who thinks their children could have been in contact with Strait is asked to call Sgt. Kyle Bade or Detective Jessie Phillips at 618-632-9047.

Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at swuerz@bnd.com or call 618-239-2626.

Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at swuerz@bnd.com or call 618-239-2626.