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.”
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