John W. Thomas of Savoy, Mass., is scheduled to be arraigned in Caledonia District Court on one count of sexual assault on a minor and three counts of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child.
The state alleges Thomas sexually abused four children, all of whom were members of the Twelve Tribes Church. The church has communities in a number of states, including Vermont, Massachusetts, New York, Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, Missouri and Colorado. One of the church’s communities is located in Island Pond and there are other Vermont communities in Bellows Falls and Rutland as well as Lancaster, N.H.
The state alleges Thomas is a former teacher with the church and had sexually abused as many as eight minor children, all of whom resided in the church community, during a period of time around 1995.
According to Jean Swantko, a member of Twelve Tribes, the church first became aware of the sexual molestations in 2002 and expelled Thomas from the church at that time.
Although the alleged sexual abuse took place about nine years ago, the state of Vermont was not approached until 2004.
Thomas, whose ex-wife is still a member of the Island Pond Twelve Tribes community, up until recently had custody of his children.
Vermont issued a fugitive from justice warrant to Massachusetts, where Thomas was arrested.
Thomas has posted $5,000 bail in Massachusetts and agreed to return to Vermont for arraignment. Thomas has also arranged for $10,000 bail here in Vermont.
According to Caledonia County Deputy State’s Attorney Kyle Sipples, Thomas’ children are now in the custody of Massachusetts and now being cared for by Thomas’ mother.
During a hearing in Caledonia District Court on Wednesday, Sipples argued Thomas should be held without bail, while Thomas’ attorney for purposes of arraignment, Douglas Willey, argued that his client could be released on conditions set by the court.
After arguments, Judge Brian Grearson told both sides he would weigh their arguments and announce a decision on bail today.
Throughout the hearings, approximately eight members of the church have observed the proceedings.
Swantko said on Wednesday the Twelve Tribes Church strongly opposes Thomas’ release on bail.