A former administrator at an Orlando church told investigators that the church's pastors who took in a teenage runaway this summer knew that they were doing something unlawful.
In a sworn statement filed this week in Ohio, Brian Smith stated that "many lawyers" told pastor Blake Lorenz he was "breaking the law" by aiding the teen, Fathima Rifqa Bary.
Smith is a former administrator of Global Revolution Church, a church founded by husband and wife pastors Blake and Beverly Lorenz.
Rifqa, then 16, ran away from her home outside Columbus, Ohio, in mid-July and hopped a Greyhound bus to Orlando.
She sought shelter with the Lorenzes, whom she met through an online prayer group.
Rifqa said she feared her Muslim family would harm her or kill her because she converted to Christianity. Her parents have denied the teen's claim, and investigators found no proof of it.
According to the affidavit, Blake Lorenz told Smith that Lorenz and another church member went to the Orlando bus station and bought Rifqa a ticket under a false name. Before she arrived in Orlando, Lorenz also asked Smith for church money to pay some of her expenses, including the cost of a bed and a disposable cell phone.
Also in his affidavit, Smith said Blake Lorenz refused to call Florida's Department of Children and Families when he was advised by police and others to report that Rifqa was living with them. Rifqa's parents had reported her missing to Ohio authorities.
Prosecutors to make charging decision
Florida law says people cannot shelter an unmarried minor for more than 24 hours without the consent of their parent or guardian, or without notifying a law-enforcement officer of the child's name.
A Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation into the pastors' role is complete, Assistant Special Agent in Charge Danny Banks said.
In upcoming weeks, FDLE will submit its case to the State Attorney's Office, which will review the file and soon will make a charging decision, Banks said.
"I wish I could respond," Blake Lorenz said Wednesday of Smith's sworn statement. "The truth's going to prevail. I'm not worried."
He referred questions to lawyer Mat Staver, who was critical of Smith's statement.
"There's a lot of allegations in that affidavit that I know personally are not factual," Staver said. "I've known the Lorenzes for 20 years. The last thing they would do is intentionally violate the law."
Staver did not point to any specific charges that are incorrect but called Smith a disgruntled former employee.
Reached Wednesday, Smith said his sworn statement is truthful based on the information he had been told. And he said he "absolutely" is not a disgruntled former employee.
In an earlier interview with the Orlando Sentinel, Lorenz said he did call DCF. A DCF spokeswoman earlier confirmed the agency received four calls related to Rifqa's case, but wouldn't say who made those calls. The calls were received July 29, Aug. 6, and two on Aug. 7.
Rifqa's story turned international
Rifqa stayed with the Lorenzes for more than two weeks before she was ordered into DCF custody by an Orange County judge.
Fearful that Rifqa would be sent back to her parents in Ohio, the Lorenzes in August alerted the Orlando media about a custody hearing.
Rifq'a story then turned into one of international intrigue with religious factions lining up against each other before and after custody hearings in Orlando.
Rifwa eventually was sent back to Ohio to live with a foster family.
The Lorenzes reorganized Global Revolution Church after their role in the Rifqa affair was disclosed. They now lead a congregation under another name.
In Smith's sworn statement, he said he told Lorenz he was "very uncomfortable" with the Rifqa situation and spoke to his personal lawyer.
"My lawyer explained to me that they were in violation of several laws and to immediately hang up, call Blake and tell him to call DCF immediately," Smith said in his statement. "She quoted several laws to me and the seriousness of them."
"I called Blake and informed him of what the lawyer said. I implored him to call DCF immediately. He said he wouldn't because they would just return her to her parents."
Rene Stutzman of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report. Amy L. Edwards can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-5735.