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Mahwah minister who had sex with underage congregant gets more prison time

Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT photos
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT photos
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT photos

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A judge in Hackensack today sentenced a Mahwah youth pastor to a collective 30 years in prison for sexually abusing a young member of his church.

His wife waved and mouthed “I love you” to Curtis Franklin as a pair of state corrections officers led him away.

Franklin already is serving an eight-year prison sentence for  sexually abusing the woman’s youngster sister, who also was underage.

The sentence handed down this afternoon — 10 years for each of three counts, to be served concurrently — boosts Frankln’s overall sentence to 18 years. He won’t be eligible for parole for more than 13 years.

A previous prosecution in the case ended in a mistrial, leading to a retrial that ended with his conviction in April.

Curtis Franklin at today’s sentencing in Hackensack (CLIFFVIEW PILOT photo)

The 48-year-old former assistant pastor at the Mahwah Full Gospel Church faces lifetime parole as a registered Megan’s Law offender if he is ever released from state custody. He is appealing both convictions.

Franklin, who has put on at least 40 pounds since the trial, his hair gone gray, remained silent this afternoon. The officers from the Central Transportation Unite of the state Department of Corrections stood behind him throughout the proceedings, ready to return him to the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center in Avenel.

“This creep molested both of my daughters,” their father told Superior Court Judge Edward A. Jerejian, seeking the harshest punishment. “At least he could be repentant.”

Franklin’s refusal to accept responsibility for his crimes has been an issue since the trial ended.

“You have no remorse,” Jerejian told him. “It defies logic from what the evidence was.

“You gave a video statement in which you made admissions that couldn’t be denied because [in Franklin’s view] it was after her 16th birthday that made it OK because it was legal,” the judge said. “But the jury listened to all the proofs and did not believe that.

“I really don’t think you understand what you did – there is a risk of another offense, and a strong need to deter,” Jerejian said.

The judge said today’s sentencing was delayed from the summer because Franklin wasn’t cooperating with authorities at the state’s treatment facility for sex offenders.

Jerejian said he had to receive a pre-sentence report from experts at Avenel.

A new defense attorney later said his client had received “bad legal advice” and promised that he would “embrace the treatment.”

During today’s sentencing, Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Kenneth Ralph read a letter from the victim:

“There are always choices,” she wrote. “I stayed silent because I looked around and I saw people I loved who would be hurt if I said anything.

“This is not about vengeance. I will never be avenged, it will never be right. I came forward because I don’t want a young girl to ever live with this.

“His behavior is evil, sick, disgusting and illegal. My entire family has been deeply impacted by the teachings of the Mahwah Full Gospel Church,” she added. “I often wonder how different the last 18 years of my life would have been if this monster had never come into it.

“I live with a scarred name and reputation when it wasn’t my fault this happened. Curtis Franklin and the choices he made, he is the reason he is in jail.  He is the reason he’s here today.”

Franklin’s first trial on the charges was declared a mistrial after a juror who was confused by a point of law researched information online and distributed information packages to the rest of the jury.

“It was almost four years today from the time this investigation started until we finally completed the trials and the sentences, and finally justice has been served in this case,” Ralph told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .

“The father’s statement shows the impact, which didn’t just affect the two victims, but extended out into the community as well,” the assistant prosecutor said.

During the trial, Ralph outlined a long-term relationship “conducted in secret” in several places over four years, beginning when the girl was 12.

The woman, now 29, told jurors she “thought that it was love, something special between us,” then later felt like a sinner.

The encounters occurred in Franklin’s tow truck, the bedroom of his house after his wife left early for work, her bedroom, in parking lots, on secluded roads, and in Oregon when she saved money from her summer job working for Franklin’s father-in-law at Speedway 17 in Mahwah and went to visit him and his family for six weeks — when she was 14 — she said. Franklin’s lawyer at the time said it was purely a “he said/she said” case.

Jerejian said the jurors put the defense argument to rest.

“In a closed-church community, you would knock on the back door and have sex with her on the floor while her parents were upstairs,” the judge told Franklin. “It’s really a shame because you have two daughters of your own.

“I am sure you would not want for them what you did to these girls.”

STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter

STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT photos

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