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Lawsuit: Prominent Atlanta Pastor Groomed Young Men for Sex

And the networking group was called “Longfellows”? Priceless.

Atlanta, Georgia from www.cnn.com – — Allegations that a prominent Atlanta pastor coerced two young male church members and employees into sex are “a case of retaliation and a shakedown for money by men with some serious credibility issues,” the pastor’s spokesman told CNN on Wednesday.

Pastor Eddie Long [pictured] “categorically and adamantly denies these allegations,” spokesman Art Franklin said. “There’s been a lot of chatter since yesterday, but these complaints that have been filed are definitely without merit.”

Lawsuits filed Tuesday in DeKalb County, Georgia, allege that Long used his position as a spiritual authority and bishop to coerce young male members and employees of his New Birth Missionary Baptist Church into sex. CNN was the first to report on the lawsuits.

“Defendant Long has a pattern and practice of singling out a select group of young male church members and using his authority as Bishop over them to ultimately bring them to a point of engaging in a sexual relationship,” the suits allege.

Long is considered one of the nation’s top African-American preachers. His church has more 25,000 members, according to the suit, and was the site of Coretta Scott King’s 2006 funeral, attended by then-President George W. Bush and three former presidents. King was the widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

One of the men, Anthony Flagg, 21, alleges in his suit that Long took him on overnight trips to a half-dozen American cities in recent years.

“Long shared a bedroom and engaged in intimate sexual contact with plaintiff Flagg including kissing, massaging, masturbating of plaintiff Flagg by defendant Long and oral sexual contact,” the suit says.

The other man, Maurice Murray Robinson, 20, claims Long took him to Auckland, New Zealand, in October 2008 for his 19th birthday and engaged in oral sex with him, Robinson’s suit alleges.

“Following the New Zealand trip, defendant Long regularly engaged in sexual touching, and other sexual acts with plaintiff Robinson,” Robinson’s suit alleges.

Attorney B.J. Bernstein, who represents both Flagg and Robinson, said Wednesday that the youths’ accounts are “really strong.”

She said she has worked with sexual abuse victims and finds the two believable because of “the emotion. The intensity. The very strong description of what sexual acts occurred. … This is not just someone giving a vague thing, ‘Oh, yeah, one time he did this,’ or a couple of times.”

But Franklin told CNN’s “American Morning” on Wednesday that the two men “are not innocent victims” and that they have known “the wrong side of the law” before, including being charged with breaking into Long’s office in June to steal items, such as jewelry, that could be sold for cash.

“Let your viewers be the judge of their actions,” Franklin said.

In June, Robinson was arrested and charged with burglary in connection with a break-in at Long’s office. An iPhone, iPad and other items — more than $1,300 worth — were taken from the office, according to the police report. Bernstein said Wednesday that about $100,000 worth of items were taken, including black diamonds.

On Tuesday, Bernstein said the theft was Robinson’s attempt to retaliate against the pastor. She said that once Robinson began telling others about his experience with Long, “he realized he wasn’t the only one.”

“It made [Robinson] angry,” she said.

She said Wednesday that Robinson’s anger also stemmed from a May incident in which he sought comfort and solace from Long and instead was the target of a sexual advance. That “created a frenzy inside him,” she said.

Franklin told CNN’s John Roberts, “This is actually, John, a case of retaliation and a shakedown for money by men with some serious credibility issues trying to mount their own defense. This is something that went from 48 hours of contact with the attorney flinging outrageous demands to this dog-and-pony show we are seeing.”

Asked about the relationship between Long and the young men, Franklin said that both were part of the LongFellows program at the church.

The suit describes Long’s LongFellows Youth Academy as an offshoot of New Birth. According to its website, the group’s vision is to “love, live and lead. We successfully meet the demanding needs of young men through a vigorous Rites of Passage Curriculum that helps young men realize their hidden potential and discover their masculine heart.”

Franklin said that both Robinson and Flagg were among many young people employed by the church. Asked whether they ever traveled with Long, he said a number of people travel with him.

On whether the two youths ever shared a room with Long, Franklin said, “That is one of the allegations that we learned through the media that’s being made by the attorneys and something our defense team will have to respond to.

“We have not even seen the lawsuit ourselves,” he said. “That’s something our attorneys will have to go through.”

On the reaction from Long’s congregation, Franklin said, “Last night, it was a very spirit-filled worship service from a church family that loves its spiritual leader very much.” He said Long is drawing strength from his family, the New Birth family and other supporters.

“Before rushing to any judgment on Bishop Long and this court of public opinion taking place right now, I really do hope you will look at these guys that are throwing the mud and consider the source,” he said.

Asked how she can prove that sexual contact took place, Bernstein said, “I am ready to put them under oath. Bishop Long can spend money on the best attorneys in this world, and they can question those young men, and then I’ll get to question the bishop, and then we’ll really see what’s going on.”

She said she will subpoena records of an “excessive number of phone calls” between Long and the young men, along with e-mails, credit card receipts and other items. Bernstein said she had alerted federal authorities about the situation.

Long frequently denounces homosexual behavior. A 2007 article in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s magazine called him “one of the most virulently homophobic black leaders in the religiously based anti-gay movement.”

Both plaintiffs said the pastor, his church and church employees gave them cash and lavish gifts that ranged from cars to college tuition.

The suits also said that Long framed the sexual relationships as religious in nature.

“They were groomed for it, from 14 to 17 years old,” Bernstein said Wednesday. “He gets to know them and gets the trust, and then bit by bit — first it’s a hug. It’s just like any sexual predator. Or we’re sitting watching the football game, and you put your legs up on their lap … One of the boys described going to the gym, ‘Can you massage my neck?’ and then there’s another massage, and it just slowly breaks down. Ask any victim of sexual abuse. It is a progression.”

The suits allege that Long chose the plaintiffs to be his “Spiritual Sons,” a program that allegedly includes other young men from the church.

“Spiritual Sons are taken on public and private jets to U.S. and international destinations, housed in luxury hotels and given access to numerous celebrities including entertainment stars and politicians,” the suit alleges.

Flagg moved into a home owned by another New Birth pastor when he was a high school junior, according to the suit, where Long would sometimes share a bed with him. Flagg was eventually put on the church’s payroll, his suit alleges, with Long personally delivering his checks.

Flagg’s suit says that Long presided over a spiritual “covenant” ceremony between the two of them.

“It was essentially a marriage ceremony, with candles, exchange of jewelry and biblical quotes,” Bernstein said Tuesday. “The bishop [told] him ‘I will always have your back, and you will always have mine.’ ”

The families of both young men moved to Georgia in order to join Long’s church, she said Wednesday.

Robinson’s suit alleges that “Defendant Long would use Holy Scripture to discuss and justify the intimate relationship between himself and Plaintiff Robinson.”

The lawsuits are seeking unspecified amounts of punitive damages from Long on various counts, ranging from negligence to breach of fiduciary duty.

The suits allege that various staff members working for Long, his church and the LongFellows Academy “knew of Defendant Long’s sexually inappropriate conduct and did nothing to warn or protect [the plaintiffs].”

Bernstein said her office is looking into allegations made by others who are afraid to come forward publicly.

She said she warned the young men they would be “crucified” for making the allegations, “and they just said, ‘We have to do it, and we know there are others.’ “

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