A Corona, California pastor and two associates accused of physically assaulting a 13-year-old boy and forcing him to dig his own grave as a way of disciplining him were charged today with child abuse and other felonies.
Nicholas James Craig, 22, Darryll Duane Jeter, 28, and Lonny Lee Remmers, 54 — all of Corona — were arraigned this afternoon before Riverside County Superior Court Judge Becky Dugan.
Craig and Jeter each pleaded not guilty to kidnapping, torture, making criminal threats, false imprisonment and three counts each of inflicting corporal injury on a child and assault resulting in great bodily injury.
They could face up to 19 years in prison if convicted.
Remmers pleaded not guilty to assault with a deadly weapon and child abuse. He faces seven years behind bars if found guilty.
Dugan set a felony settlement conference in the case for April 19.
Investigators says the boy’s mother told police officers she took her son to the Heart of Worship group home seeking guidance.
The church’s website says, “Our mission at the Heart of Worship is to raise the church body to be true disciples of Christ. meaning that if Christ would not think it, say it, or do it, neither will we.”
Police say Craig and Jeter took the boy to Barstow where they beat him with a shovel and forced him to dig a hole he was told would be his grave.
They then brought him back to Remmer’s home where the boy was assaulted by the pastor, who allegedly used a pair of pliers to clamp the youth’s nipples. Officers say the boy was also zip-tied to a chair and pepper-sprayed in the face.
The Press-Enterprise says Lonny Lee Remmers has a history of legal woes. In 1998 he “was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison for criminal contempt after the Federal Trade Commission said he refused to live up to a settlement agreement stemming from a telemarketing scam that lured investors into a phony satellite-TV distribution scheme.”
“Remmers and his wife Lisa, along with others, are named in a $10.5 million federal civil suit filed by a bank in Ohio. It alleges the defendants “established several fraudulent entities, none of which had any values or assets” and used those to lure investors.”
CHURCH CALLED A CULT
The paper also cites former members of the church who refer to the organization as a cult.
Dyane and David Mathias, former Corona residents who now live in New Jersey, said Lonny Remmers attempted to dictate church members’ activities through intimidation.
Those who resist are threatened or punished, the couple said.
“He controls what you read, he controls what movies you are allowed to go to, he controls what version of the Bible you are allowed to read,” Dyane Mathias, 45, said in a telephone interview.
She described an incident that she said took place at Remmers’ home when she and David were dating. Remmers had previously said in a sermon that his congregants were not allowed to date, and he would decide when any could marry, she said.
Remmers told her to stop dating David, and she refused. Mathias said Remmers later knocked her down and wouldn’t let her up until she said “I give.”
She said she and her teenage son ran from the house crying, with Remmers chasing after them, screaming and cursing.
Dyane Mathias said the people drawn to Remmers were typically in need, homeless or with other troubles. He would offer counseling and other services, she said.
Remmers is listed on the business professional website LinkedIn as owner-director of Fire Escape Ministries, which appears to be an umbrella organization for other groups, including Heart of Worship.
Heart of Worship operates group homes for men and women in Corona and held Bible discussions in Remmers’ Corona home every week.