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Bail set at $500K for former pastor

Judge Kelly Thimm set a cash bail of $500,000 for Jeffrey Anthony Charles, five times the amount requested by Douglas County District Attorney Mark Fruehauf.

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Douglas County Courthouse, Superior, Wisconsin.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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SUPERIOR — A Burnett County man accused of sexually assaulting a child at his cabin in the town of Summit while he was a church pastor made his initial appearance Wednesday, May 18, in Douglas County Circuit Court.

Jeffrey Anthony Charles, 61, of Danbury, faces one count of repeated sexual assault of a child, persistent repeater, for alleged incidents that took place between 2005 and 2010. Douglas County Circuit Court Judge Kelly Thimm set a cash bail of $500,000 for Charles, five times the amount requested by Douglas County District Attorney Mark Fruehauf. Charles was ordered to have no contact with the victim or minors, to surrender his passport and not to leave the state of Wisconsin.

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Jeffrey Charles
Contributed / Douglas County Sheriff's Office

The Danbury man was serving as the pastor of the Neighbors to Nations church in Princeton, Minnesota, during the time of the assaults, according to the criminal complaint. Parishioners routinely traveled to Charles’ cabin in Summit to serve him.

The victim reported being sexually assaulted multiple times at the cabin between the ages of 3 and 7, the complaint said. She told Detective Mike Miller with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office that Charles took her alone into his cabin to assault her, but other girls from the church and their families were present on the property.

Charles had the victim call him “daddy Charles” and told her she was his daughter, according to the criminal complaint. She told Miller there was a group of girls that Charles treated special but she was younger and closer to him. People would tell her she should be thankful to be his favorite, the victim reported.

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The former pastor was convicted of third-degree sexual abuse in 1997 in the state of Iowa, according to the criminal complaint. The statute under which Charles was convicted requires proof that the defendant committed a sex act with another person who was 12 or 13 years of age.

If convicted, Charles faces life imprisonment. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Wednesday, May 25, with a status conference the day before to check if Charles has an attorney to represent him.

The Douglas County case was the result of an investigation by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office with assistance from the Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation.

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul thanked Fruehauf for his continued partnership with the Clergy and Faith Leader Abuse Initiative and the work the Douglas County office has done to seek justice in this case.

“We are committed to holding perpetrators of sexual assault accountable,” Kaul said.

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Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul speaks with reporters outside the Government Center in Superior on Wednesday, May 18, 2022.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram

The Attorney General made a stop in Superior Wednesday, where the DOJ was holding a regional sexual assault training for prosecutors. One topic presenters addressed was trauma and how it affects victims and their perceived credibility as witnesses.

“What has historically been viewed as potentially being inconsistent statements is actually totally consistent with the signs of trauma that you’d expect a survivor of sexual assault to go through as they’re processing traumatic events,” Kaul said.

Providing services to victims of crime and the enactment of Marsy’s Law were also discussed, as well as unique aspects of sexual assault cases and best practices to effectively prosecute a sexual assault case.

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When speaking to the group, Kaul pointed out that Wisconsin legislation has been passed requiring all sex assault kits to be tested, and said that the state is preparing to unveil a sex assault kit tracking system.

When asked about the Charles case, the attorney general couldn’t comment on specifics. He said Fruehauf reached out to the DOJ office with information he had been made aware of.

“We worked in collaboration between our initiative and ultimately local law enforcement here as well as the DAs office here working together. And that’s now resulted in the charges that were filed yesterday,” Kaul said.

It will remain a collaborative effort, he said, with an assistant attorney general tasked to work with the prosecution.

Survivors of clergy or faith leader abuse, their friends and family, or anyone who has information about the actions of Jeffrey Anthony Charles are encouraged to report that information to the DOJ either online at SupportSurvivors.widoj.gov or by calling 1-877-222-2620.

“Anybody with information, we want to encourage to reach out,” Kaul said. “The more information we can gather, the more comprehensive and understanding we can provide to Wisconsinites based on our review.”

MORE FROM MARIA LOCKWOOD:
Environmental groups seek to block construction of the $700 million Nemadji Trail Energy Center.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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