Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tomas Gonzales Charged with Sexually Abusing 2 Relatives

A church pastor faces multiple felony charges in connection with allegations he sexually abused two female relatives.

Tomás Gonzáles, 61, of Mercedes, was arraigned Tuesday evening in Mercedes Municipal Court on two counts of indecency with a child and eight counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child.

"I committed the error," he said in Spanish during the arraignment. "Now I have to pay for it."

Gonzáles serves as pastor at Templo Nueva Vida in a colonia at the intersection of Lott Road and Dedri Drive in the Weslaco area.

Sgt. Hugo Ramos Jr. of the Mercedes Police Department said a 15-year-old female relative wrote a letter to her mother last week saying that the man had sexually abused her since she was about 5 years old. Eventually, the girl's 13-year-old sister came forward with similar accusations.

Gonzáles was called to the police station Monday night for questioning and provided a voluntary confession to the crimes, Ramos said. "We just called him and he turned himself in."

The pastor allegedly abused the two girls when they visited him at his home, the sergeant said. The sisters are currently receiving counseling.

Investigators said they are following leads that could result in more charges against the man.

"There could possibly be more victims," Ramos said, adding that no incidents have been reported at the pastor's church.

Residents near Templo Nueva Vida said a man in a white truck sometimes picks up children to take them to church services in the evenings, though they were unsure whether that man was Gonzáles.

"There have been rumors about (sexual abuse at) the churches nearby," Margarita Espinoza, 32, said in Spanish. "If one doesn't go with the children, they shouldn't let them go at all."

Across the street from Templo Nueva Vida, about a dozen people gathered to pray in a small, hot warehouse that is home to the Iglesia de Jesucristo - Salvación Eterna.

The group chanted hymns while someone softly strummed along with a guitar.

"I hadn't heard of anything," said Alex Carmona Jr., whose father is a pastor at Iglesia de Jesucristo. "But anytime something happens against children, it's nothing good."

The sound of the chorus hummed through the colonia while a young girl wandered through an abandoned structure in a diaper and several boys rode their bicycles down the gravel road.

"One thinks some people are incapable of doing anything wrong," Espinoza said in Spanish. "But you have to be careful."

Gonzáles is not a registered sex offender and has no prior criminal history, according to available public records.

He remained at the Hidalgo County Jail on Tuesday night in lieu of a $2 million bond. If found guilty of aggravated sexual assault, he could face up to life in prison and a possible fine of up to $10,000.

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