Brazil arrests US sect leader wanted on sex charges
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazilian authorities said Saturday they arrested a self-professed minister put on a U.S. most-wanted list for allegedly molesting two girls in a “Maidens Group” at his religious fellowship in rural Minnesota.
A statement posted on the website of the Public Security Secretariat for the Rio Grande do Norte state government reported the arrest of Victor Arden Barnard, 53. The U.S. Marshals Service also confirmed the arrest in a statement.
The Brazilian statement said police captured Barnard late Friday in an apartment near a paradisiacal white-sand beach in northeastern Brazil. He was being held in the city of Natal to await extradition to face charges in the U.S.
Bernard, who faces 59 counts of criminal sexual conduct, was on the most-wanted list of the U.S. Marshals Service.
According to a criminal complaint in the U.S., two women said they were among about 10 girls and young women who were chosen to live apart from their families in a camp that Barnard set up near Finlayson, Minnesota, about 90 miles north of Minneapolis.
One woman alleged Barnard sexually abused her beginning at age 13 and continuing until she was 22. The other said her abuse occurred between ages 12 and 20.
Barnard allegedly kept the girls isolated, and U.S. authorities have said he used religious coercion and intimidation to maintain his control over them, calling it cult-like behavior. He allegedly told one victim she would remain a virgin because he was a “man of God,” according to a criminal complaint.
Investigators believe Barnard abused other girls but have been unable to get others to come forward. Most of the criminal counts against him carry maximum sentences of 30 years in prison.
Cindi Currie, who said she had visited Barnard’s River Road Fellowship religious camp in Minnesota years ago and tried to persuade a friend to leave the group, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper that she can’t wait to see Barnard behind bars.
“He has ruined more lives. That man is the devil incarnate,” she said. “I’m just ready to cry. I’m so glad they found him. Not only will Victor Barnard go to jail, but every adult who knew what was going on up there can start to pay, and maybe these girls can start to heal.”
The U.S. Marshals Service said Barnard initially left Minnesota in 2010, before the women came forward, and his whereabouts were unknown for some time. It was believed he and his followers had moved to Washington state.
Brazilian police inspector Paulo Henrique Oliveira told the news portal G1, the website of Brazil’s biggest TV network, that Barnard entered the South American country legally in 2012.
Authorities said Barnard had been living for at least six months at the apartment where he was arrested near Praia da Pipa beach, about 1,300 miles (2,100 kilometers) from Rio de Janeiro.
Taken into custody with him was a 33-year-old Brazilian woman. Police also confiscated computers, cellphones, pen drives and other objects.
Associated Press writer Brad Brooks reported this story in Rio de Janeiro and Amy Forliti reported from Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Brad Brooks on Twitter: www.twitter.com/bradleybrooks