A former pastor of a Florida megachurch was charged four counts over sexual abuse of a teenager.
Jeffrey Lawrence Bedwell, a former youth minister at the Southside campus of Chets Creek Church, was arrested by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office on July 8 for molesting a minor in a period of five years, The Christian Post reported.
The charges include transmission of materials harmful to minors, unlawful sexual activity, lewd and lascivious molestation of a minor, as well as lewd and lascivious sexual battery on a minor.
In a statement to First Coast News, Chets Creek Senior Pastor Spike Hogan expressed his surprise and disappointment on Bedwell's arrest.
"Chets Creek was shocked and devastated to learn of the charges made against a former member of its staff. Jeff Bedwell's employment with the church was terminated more than two years ago for issues unrelated to the current charges now made against him," he began.
The lead pastor went on to say that the church will cooperate with the authorities on their investigation.
"During his time with Chets, he was subjected to the same thorough vetting and background check process that we require of all leaders, and there was no hint of criminal activity. Had we learned of, or had any reason to believe there was wrongdoing, we would have reported it to law enforcement immediately. With his recent arrest, we will cooperate with law enforcement in any way we can as they conduct their investigation," Hogan stated.
Further, the pastor declared that the congregation's "top priority" is the safety of its members and families and so, they are looking for ways to make it a "safer" place.
"With God's help and guidance, we will do just that," he added.
He also said that the church currently focuses on praying and supporting the individuals involved.
"Please pray with us as we are once again reminded that we live in a dark world that needs help and hope that only God can bring," Hogan concluded.
Bedwell allegedly developed a close relationship with the victim when she was only 12 years old by sending text messages. He eventually groomed her when she turned 13, continuing the text message communication, and started exchanging photos and inappropriate conversations. The sexual assault began when she was 14 and went on for three years.
Conan Daily says that Bedwell is a client relationship and project manager at nRollTech and also listed as a lead pastor at First Baptist Church from 2000 to 2021. In 2011, he was working as an assistant vice president and project manager at TIAA Bank for a year.
He studied management at Florida State College and attended the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary for his master's degree in theological studies and counseling.
During his stint at Chets Creek, he worked as an information technology director, campus minister and middle school pastor since 2011 until 2019.
The suspect is being held at Duvan County jail on a $500,012 bond and is set to appear in court on July 29.