Dozens of additional charges have been filed against a former church elder accused of hiding cameras in the changing areas of the church to film children undressing.
David Von Bergen, 60, of Bethalto, now faces more than 20 charges alleging that he secretly filmed young people in the church as child pornography.
Clergy and staff members of Zion Lutheran Church in Bethalto found surveillance cameras hidden in their church building on Christmas Eve 2015. They contacted the police, who searched the building and found cameras in several locations, including the changing area of the sacristy.
David Von Bergen, 60, was charged with felony unauthorized recording and obstruction of justice in January 2016. Von Bergen was an elder of the church. According to police, Von Bergen was attempting to remove the cameras when he was allegedly confronted by Kale Hanson, an assistant pastor of the church. Investigators said they believe Hanson agreed to destroy the memory cards of the cameras and allowed him to leave with some of them.
Never miss a local story.
At the time, Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons said the investigation would be more difficult due to the loss of evidence, but that they would seek forensic examination of the evidence.
“It took time, but we got it,” he said.
Additional charges were filed earlier this week, but were sealed by the Madison County courts until Von Bergen could be taken into custody. Madison County Associate Judge Neil Schroeder unsealed the charges Thursday morning.
Von Bergen now faces 21 additional felony charges:
▪ Six charges of production of child pornography, a Class X felony;
▪ Four charges of possession of child pornography, a Class 2 felony;
▪ Four charges of unauthorized videotaping of children under the age of 18 in a restroom, a Class 3 felony;
▪ One charge of unauthorized videotaping under the clothes of a person under the age of 18, a Class 3 felony;
▪ Four charges of unauthorized videotaping of adults in a restroom, a Class 4 felony; and
▪ Two charges of unauthorized videotaping of adults in a changing room, a Class 4 felony.
These charges are in addition to the previous two counts of felony unauthorized recording and misdemeanor unauthorized recording that were filed last year.
The extraordinary violation of the privacy and peace of these victims, in their place of worship, must be dealt with in the most serious terms.
Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons
“There are no words to express the outrage and disbelief at the actions of the defendant alleged in these charges,” Gibbons said. “The extraordinary violation of the privacy and peace of these victims, in their place of worship, must be dealt with in the most serious terms.”
Gibbons said Bethalto Police Department and computer forensics experts from Illinois State Police have been working on recovering the evidence for more than a year to seek justice for the victims.
“Our prayers are with them as they deal with this terrible circumstance,” Gibbons said.
Von Bergen’s son, David Von Bergen Jr., 36, was sentenced earlier this month on charges of child pornography. A police search of his Godfrey home found two videos of Von Bergen Jr. with two young girls, ages 7 and 8.
He pleaded guilty to two counts of child pornography and two counts of predatory sexual assault. He was sentenced to 80 years in prison, of which he must serve a minimum of 57 years before he is eligible for release. He had faced up to 180 years in prison on all counts. Von Bergen Jr. had a previous child pornography conviction from 2001, while he was serving in the U.S. Air Force, and was required to register as a sex offender.
Hanson was charged with obstruction of justice. His case is pending in Madison County court. However, Gibbons said Hanson has been “fully cooperative.”
“There’s no evidence to suggest he had any knowledge of what Von Bergen was attempting to record,” Gibbons said. Hanson is due to appear in court next week.
If you’re a Christian, pray for our church because we’re sure going to need it.
Zion Lutheran Executive Director Carl Dixon
Zion Lutheran Church dates back to 1870, with its current building constructed in 1957. It operates a preschool and elementary school and has approximately 1,600 members. Carl Dixon, who was elected executive director last month, said the church was “blindsided” when the cameras were initially discovered that Christmas Eve.
“It was a shock to everybody; I mean, nobody expects this,” Dixon said.
Dixon said the church has been fully cooperating with the investigation, and he is very impressed with the Madison County State’s Attorney’s office. He said Gibbons came to speak to the entire church, and the turnout was immense.
“I have so much respect for him,” Dixon said. “He explained the entire legal process and everything that would transpire.”
Dixon said while a violation of this type can happen anywhere, it seems to hit harder when it’s a house of worship. The church is standing together and supporting the victims, he said.
“It’s a time of unity, for people to be there for each other,” he said. “If you’re a Christian, pray for our church because we’re sure going to need it.”