By Jessica Arbour
June 21, 2011
Christian network sued in child-sex caseBy Manya Brachear
8:15 PM CDT, June 20, 2011
An international Christian radio and television network based in West Frankfort in southern Illinois and the brother of the network’s founder were named in a federal child-sex-abuse lawsuit filed in Chicago today.
Three Angels Broadcasting Network, or 3ABN, and the Rev. Tommy Shelton, the brother of the network’s founder Danny Shelton, were named in the complaint filed by plaintiff Alex Walker, of Mattoon.
Walker, now 25, alleges that Tommy Shelton sexually abused him when he worked as a production assistant at 3ABN in 2001. Walker’s lawyer, Jeff Herman, of Miami, said Shelton commuted to 3ABN from his home in Kentucky for the purpose of abusing Walker, which Herman believes makes the civil suit a federal case.
The suit accuses 3ABN of negligence, claiming leaders were aware of the threat Shelton posed to children.
In statement released by 3ABN, the network said Shelton had no reason to come into contact with Walker, who was closely supervised by Walker’s older brother.
“3ABN does not believe that the claims against it have any merit,” the statement said. “We intend to vigorously defend the good name of our organization.”
Walker said he originally met Shelton in 1997 during a two-month visit to Virginia, where Shelton served as a pastor. Shelton now faces criminal charges in Virginia’s Fairfax County tied to Walker’s and another man’s abuse allegations.
According to the civil suit filed Monday, Shelton, a pastor ordained by the Church of God, was suspended by that denomination in 1985 apparently after sexual abuse allegations against him surfaced. He continued to work for Ezra Church of God until the early 1990s.
Shortly after leaving, he started working a variety of jobs for 3ABN, the suit says, eventually moving to Virginia.
After Walker’s brother married Shelton’s daughter, he said, he visited the couple and Shelton in Virginia in 1997. Walker said Shelton abused him on bike rides behind the church where he worked during a two-month time period.
In 2001, Walker said his brother got him a part-time job in the production department of 3ABN in West Frankfort, where Shelton then worked. The abuse continued for a year, according to the suit.
In 2008, Walker went to law enforcement in Virginia, where there is no statute of limitations on sexual abuse allegations. Herman said they would report the allegations in Illinois to federal authorities.
The 3ABN network is affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church. A Seventh-day Adventist group called Save-3ABN has created a website demanding transparency and accountability from the network. It has posted numerous letters and documents that indicate the network was aware of allegations against Shelton decades ago.
In response, the network has sued the group for defamation of character and trademark infringement.
“It’s against our faith to lie,” said Bob Pickle, one of the defendants in that lawsuit. “It’s against our faith to molest children. The idea of no accountability has the potential for making my faith look bad.”
Jim Gilley has served as 3ABN’s president since 2007. His long career has placed him in many positions of leadership in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, including president of the Arkansas-Louisiana Conference and vice president of the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists. For 25 years he combined a career in business with a self-supporting ministry of evangelism, conducting numerous city-wide evangelistic outreaches in the former Soviet Union, witnessing over 10,000 people baptized, and organizing more than 25 new churches in Ukraine. He is also an author and a much sought-after speaker.
Danny Shelton, founder and past president of 3ABN, now serves as its corporate consultant. In 1984 he was impressed to “build a television station that would reach the world with the undiluted three angels’ messages” of Revelation 14, and through his vision and hard work, Three Angels Broadcasting Network began broadcasting on satellite just two years later. Today 3ABN television and radio networks are broadcast worldwide on 11 satellites and hundreds of television and radio stations, as well as the Internet. Each day, as hearts are won to Jesus, we fulfill our purpose as the “Mending Broken People” network.
Mollie Steenson has been with 3ABN since September 1995 and now serves as 3ABN’s vice president and general manager. She and her husband, Hal Steenson, figure prominently in early 3ABN history through their support and pledge of television equipment, which signaled to Danny Shelton that “where God guides, He provides”! She has faithfully served this ministry in many capacities, and her strength and dignity have been a singular testimony to her Christian life.
Brian Hamilton came to serve as 3ABN’s treasurer in 2008 after nearly 22 years of pastoral, administration, human resources, and treasury responsibilities in the Michigan, Wisconsin, and Southern California Conferences of Seventh-day Adventists. During this time he oversaw several major building projects such as a new cafeteria for Wisconsin Academy and a cafeteria/conference center for Wisconsin’s Camp Wakonda. Born in Walla Walla, Washington, he is a graduate of Andrews University in Michigan with a BS in business administration and later an MDiv from the Theological Seminary.
Moses Primo began his television career working for the Globo television network in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Arriving in the United States, he earned a Masters in Television Management degree and worked at several Boston television stations, including the NBC and Fox affiliates, before coming to 3ABN in 1992. Under his direction 3ABN has grown from two local television stations to a worldwide network of over 120 TV stations, using 10 satellites. He has built and equipped a satellite uplink and several mobile production trucks and a digital, automated Master Control which broadcasts 3ABN’s English, Latino, International, Proclaim!, SonBeam, and Russian TV channels—along with the 3ABN Radio Network. After searching for new ways to reach city dwellers that cannot install satellite dishes, Moses created MOIPT (Media Opportunities IPTV), providing new avenues for television ministries to spread the gospel.