Youth pastor Fernando Ponce of Miami, Florida was arrested on July 12 for allegedly engaging in a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl.
Ponce, 24, was charged with one count of possession of sexual performance by a child and 20 counts of lewd and lascivious battery. He is being held on $25,000 bond and will be placed on house arrest if he manages to post bail. He was also ordered to stay away from the victim and the church. The press did not name an attorney for Ponce.
According to the arrest report, Ponce was the victim’s youth pastor at Sembrador De Fe Church on NW 21st Avenue in Miami. Ponce reportedly started showing inappropriate interest in the victim when she was 11 years old, but her mother intervened and told him to stay away from her.
When the girl turned 14, Ponce allegedly asked her to be his girlfriend and they started a secret relationship. They were together for 9 months and reportedly engaged in sexual activity several times over that period. They would video chat and Ponce purportedly took pictures of the victim without her knowledge. He told her not to tell anyone about their relationship or “her family would suffer,” the arrest affidavit said. Investigators said Ponce confessed to all the allegations after his arrest.
Another case of lewd and lascivious battery involving a minor was reported in Kendall, Florida on May 24. Pedro Julio Garcia was arrested for allegedly sexually molesting a 13-year-old girl during a therapy session. Garcia, 67, is charged with one count of lewd and lascivious molestation and one count of lewd and lascivious conduct on a minor.
According to the arrest affidavit, the alleged incident occurred at PJ Psychotherapy, which Garcia owns, on 9010 SW 137th Avenue in Kendall. The victim told police that Garcia tried to kiss and fondle her during a therapy session. Garcia told her to lay on his couch and close her eyes, then he placed his fingers over her lips and asked if they “felt like her boyfriend’s kisses,” the arrest report said. When the victim tried to exit the room, Garcia grabbed her and tried to kiss her.
Since Garcia’s arrest two months ago, three more women have come forward with allegations of sexual abuse, but prosecutors have not filed additional charges against the therapist. They do intend to use their testimonies as evidence against him if the case goes to trial.
Lewd and lascivious battery on a child between 12 and 16 years of age is committed when a person intentionally touches the genitals, breasts, or buttocks of a minor in a lewd or lascivious manner. It is a second-degree penalty punishable by up to 15 years in prison (with a minimum prison sentence of 51 months), 15 years of probation, and up to $10,000 in fines.
A person convicted of this charge is also added to the National Sex Offender Registry, and they will have to comply with sex offender registration laws in Florida and throughout the U.S. for the remainder of their lives.