International Churches of Christ Sued for Concealing Child Sexual Abuse

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Lawsuits Allege Churches of Christ Leaders Concealed 25 Years of Child Sexual Abuse

Lawsuits Allege Churches of Christ Leaders Concealed 25 Years of Child Sexual Abuse

Mar 20, 2023

Multiple federal lawsuits recently filed in California allege that leaders within the International Churches of Christ (ICOC) and the International Christian Church (ICC) covered up sexual abuse of children as young as three years old and financially exploited church members.

Reports from the Los Angeles Times and The Guardian confirm that complaints have been filed on behalf of 16 plaintiffs alleging that church leaders knew that their members had sexually abused adults and children and “actively concealed” the abuse rather than alerting authorities. The sexual abuse cover-ups were allegedly an effort to “avert discovery by child protective services and the police,” the Los Angeles Times said.

Additionally, the federal sexual abuse lawsuits charge that:

  • Kids Kingdom, the ICOC’s children’s ministry, “served as a demented playground for sexual abuse.”
  • The alleged sexual abuse occurred over the course of 25 years – between 1987 and 2012 – and some of the abusers continue to serve as active church leaders.
  • Of the 16 plaintiffs who have sued, 10 said at least some of their alleged sexual abuse happened in Los Angeles.

What are the International Churches of Christ and International Christian Church?

The International Churches of Christ (ICOC) represents a global network of non-denominational Protestant churches, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Founded in 1979 by evangelist Kip McKean, the ICOC has approximately 5,000 members in the Los Angeles area, the church website confirms.

“In 2006, after resigning from the ICOC, McKean started the ICC, which has congregations in Southern California from Santa Barbara to San Diego. Both churches are decentralized networks of nondenominational Christian congregations, and in the Los Angeles area, most congregations don’t own their own church buildings, five former Los Angeles-area ICOC and ICC members said. Instead, congregations often meet for services in hotel conference rooms or similar venues,” the Los Angeles Times said.

Details of the child sex abuse lawsuits confirmed by various media outlets include:

  • McKean is accused of urging church members to keep quiet about the alleged crimes, telling them, “We cannot report these abuses, because it would hurt our church, God’s Modern-Day Movement.”
  • David Saracino an ICOC member in Los Angeles who worked in the church’s Kids Kingdom, is also a now-convicted pedophile. He was allegedly allowed by ICOC leaders to “continue preying on children.”
  • Four women allege via lawsuits that Saracino sexually assaulted them when they were between the ages of three and nine.
  • One of the plaintiffs, Ashley Ruiz, says in court papers that when she was about five years old, Saracino would pick her up from school and force her to watch pornography, then perform oral sex on her.
  • Plaintiff Darleen Diaz alleges that Saracino would invite her and her sister, along with other girls, to swim at his house (which he shared with other ICOC members). He would then fondle them, according to court filings.
  • Darlene Diaz’s sister, Bernice Perez, claims in a lawsuit that their mother filed a police report (but church leaders had already “tipped off” Saracino, and he fled).
  • Saracino’s alleged abuses cited in the lawsuits took place throughout the 1990s.

Who is Convicted ICOC Pedophile David Saracino?

According to the Los Angeles Times, church leader David Saracino was featured on the TV show “America’s Most Wanted,” but would not be arrested until years after the alleged child sexual abuse incidents occurred.

The lawsuits further claim that, “Had ICOC assisted in his arrest or alerted their congregations… David Saracino could not have continued abusing children.”

Saracino is reportedly serving time in a Louisiana prison, and could not immediately be reached for comment by the Los Angeles Times. His former attorney said she couldn’t comment because she is not familiar with these new allegations, the Times confirmed.

In addition to the allegations against Saracino, the lawsuits claim:

  • Seven other former members of ICC or ICOC churches across the country were ultimately arrested or convicted on charges involving child pornography and other sexual misconduct with children.
  • Two of those church members taught or led at the children’s ministry.

Furthermore, through the complaints as well as interviews conducted by the Los Angeles Times with five plaintiffs, the following details related to the systemic child sexual abuse allegations have been confirmed:

  • The ICOC and ICC isolated members from the outside world then “systematically indoctrinated” them to believe that the churches and its leadership are the only true Christian authority.
  • Parishioners were taught to protect the church’s reputation, and dissenters were shunned.
  • In both churches, leaders set up dates and approved marriages between members.
  • Some members said they were asked to leave their jobs to take on roles within the church or relocate to serve in different church branches.
  • In one case, a plaintiff said that ICOC leaders demanded she move 27 times in 17 years.
  • The ICOC imposed recruitment quotas and forced members to give at least 10% of their gross income.
  • The church also required a separate contribution twice a year for mission trips that were 40 times the usual tithe amount.
  • Leaders would sometimes demand to see members’ pay stubs and sit on members’ porches until they arrived home to collect their tithes before Sunday evening was over.
  • The lawsuits also claim that McKean asked ICC members to turn over their COVID-19 relief money to the church.
  • One of the plaintiffs, identified in court papers as Jane Roe 2, alleges that she was “brainwashed into believing she would be condemned if she did not forgive her alleged abuser,” former ICOC leader Joe Garmon Sr.

Garmon is reportedly still the leader of the Thomasville, Georgia, and Tallahassee, Florida, ICC, the Los Angeles Times reported.

When reached by the phone, Garmon declined to comment and hung up. The Thomasville Tallahassee ICC did not respond to emails requesting comment,” the Times said.

“The pressure to comply with the church’s rigid demands was a source of anxiety and depression for many members. So much so that several ex-members committed suicide,” the lawsuits state.

According to the Times, among the lawsuits lodged so far against the ICOC and the ICC:

  • 13 plaintiffs were minors at the time of their alleged abuse.
  • Three plaintiffs were adults at the time of their alleged abuse.

The lawsuits, which seek financial damages, describe disturbing instances of molestation against minors, The Guardian reported.

Additionally, The Guardian indicated that:

“ICOC officials have publicly denied that their organization, which they described as decentralized, is a cult. But otherwise they have not addressed the lawsuits.”

How to File a Child Sexual Abuse Lawsuit for Damages

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse, assault, or misconduct by a church or clergy member have rights under California law. A civil lawsuit with Dordulian Law Group’s (DLG) experienced child sex crimes attorneys can be a means of securing the justice you deserve in civil court and recovering financial damages for various losses, such as:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional trauma or psychological harm
  • Lost wages
  • Diminished earning capacity
  • Reduced quality of life
  • Diminished future earning capacity
  • Lost wages due to the sex abuse
  • Punitive damages
  • Counseling or therapy expenses (past and future)
  • Medical care costs (past and future)

To speak with one of DLG’s experienced and skilled child sexual abuse lawyers, contact us today via 866-GO-SEE-SAM. Our team is led by Sam Dordulian, a former sex crimes prosecutor in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office who helped secure life sentences against some of the community’s most dangerous sexual predators.

Our Sexual Assault Justice Experts are here to help survivors secure justice. Contact our top-rated attorneys online or by phone for a free consultation today.

With more than 100 jury trial victories and over $100,000,000.00 in settlements and verdicts obtained for clients, Dordulian and his proven team of sexual abuse attorneys are standing by 24/7 to serve as your dedicated legal advocates.

Contact us today at 866-GO-SEE-SAM for a free and confidential California child sexual abuse lawyer consultation.

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