CRIME

Victor Barnard, Fugitive Minnesota Cult Leader Accused Of Child Molestation, Captured In Brazil

03/02/2015 11:49 am ET

The leader of a cult-like religious sect who was on the U.S. Marshall's Most Wanted List has been arrested by Brazilian authorities and faces extradition for allegedly molesting two young girls.

Victor Arden Barnard, 52, was taken into custody Friday in northeastern Brazil, according to The U.S. Marshals Service.

"[We] coordinated efforts with law enforcement and military in Brazil and Barnard was taken into custody without incident," the U.S. Marshals Service said in a media statement.

Barnard led the River Road Fellowship in Minnesota and Washington state. The congregation is an offshoot of The Way International, a nondenominational Christian group, authorities said.

Court documents provided to The Huffington Post show Barnard is facing 59 counts of criminal sexual conduct related to two young women, who claim he abused them for nearly a decade at a church compound.

Since November, Barnard has been on the U.S. Marshall's 15 Most Wanted List, with a $25,000 reward offered for information leading to his capture.

Brazil's G1 News, citing a Brazilian military police official, reported Barnard was captured at an ocean view apartment in Rio Grande do Norte. A 33-year-old Brazilian woman was with Barnard and had allegedly been helping him hide.

Brazilian authorities said Barnard, who entered the country legally in 2012, was found with number of possessions, including diaries, computers and flash drives, G1 News reported.

Barnard is being held at the Federal Police headquarters in Christmas, pending formal extradition to the U.S.

Authorities in Washington state have been searching for Barnard since April 2014, when a warrant for his arrest was issued by prosecutors in Pine County District Court.

The two victims at the center of the charges, the criminal complaint alleges, were among several girls who lived at Barnard's River Road Fellowship compound in Finlayson, Minnesota, which is located about 90 miles north of Minneapolis.

One of the alleged victims in the case contacted the Pine County Sheriff's Office in January 2012 and told them she had been part of Barnard's "Maidens Group," which she claims was made up of young women between the ages of 12 and 24, who lived in an area of the compound referred to as the "Shepherd's Camp."

The woman told sheriff's investigators she was 11 years old when her family joined the fellowship in 1998. Within two years, she alleged, Barnard began having sex with her.

"Barnard repeatedly preached to her that he represented Christ in the flesh, that Jesus Christ had Mary Magdalene and other women who followed him, that King Solomon slept with many concubines, that the firstborn child was to be sacrificed to God, and that it was normal for Barnard to have sex with her because it was in God's Word," the complaint states.

The alleged victim said she was 22 years old when she left the compound in 2010.

The second alleged victim told police she was 12 years old in 2000, when Barnard started having sex with her. She said he told her it was okay for them to have sex because he was a "man of God and she would remain a virgin because of it," according to the complaint.

The second victim said she stayed at the compound until age 20, in 2009.

Both victims told police they were ordered not to tell anyone they were having sex with Barnard, the complaint alleges.

According to the sheriff's office, the River Road Fellowship was settled in Pine County about 17 years ago.

"They were pretty self-sufficient," Pine County Chief Deputy Steven Blackwell told The Associated Press in April 2014. "They processed their own meat; they grew their own crops. As much as they could, they kept themselves separated from regular society."

The group, which consisted of about 50 members, remained in Pine County until 2011, when it relocated to Washington state.

"There had been a division in the group that caused many to separate because Barnard had admitted to having sexual relations with multiple married women in the group," the criminal complaint alleges.

In November 2012, sheriff's investigators traveled to Spokane, Wash., to question Barnard, but were unable to locate him. Congregation members that investigators spoke with were unwilling to help put authorities in touch with Barnard, police said.

Investigators spent two years building a case against Barnard before they filed charges against him.

"That man is the devil incarnate," Cindi Currie, who said she had tried to persuade a friend to leave Barnard's group years ago, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

"I'm so glad they found him," Currie said. "Not only will Victor Barnard go to jail, but every adult who knew what was going on up there can start to pay, and maybe these girls can start to heal."

READ THE CRIMINAL COMPLAINT:

Victor Arden Barnard Complaint

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