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Men allege sexual coercion by prominent Atlanta pastor

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Prominent pastor accused of coercion
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Long spokesman denies charges, calls them "shakedown" and "retaliation"
  • Two men file lawsuits against Atlanta-area pastor Eddie Long
  • One suit alleges that Long used his position to coerce sex
  • The Southern Poverty Law Center had called pastor "virulently homophobic"

See CNN's profile of Bishop Eddie Long. See PDFs of lawsuits filed by Maurice Robinson and Anthony Flagg.

(CNN) -- Two Georgia men have filed a lawsuit claiming that prominent Atlanta, Georgia, pastor Eddie Long coerced them into sex.

The suits, 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.

A spokesman for Long told CNN on Wednesday that the allegations are "a case of retaliation and a shakedown for money by men with some serious credibility issues."

Long "categorically and adamantly denies these allegations," said spokesman Art Franklin.

"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 black 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 previous presidents. King was the widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The pastor took one plaintiff, Anthony Flagg, 21, on overnight trips to a half-dozen American cities in recent years, Flagg's suit alleges.

Video: Spokesman denies claims
Video: Sexual coercion lawsuit announced
RELATED TOPICS
  • Eddie Long
  • Georgia
  • Atlanta

"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.

Long took the other plaintiff, Maurice Murray Robinson, 20, to Auckland, New Zealand, in October 2008 for his 18th 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.

"It is very unfortunate that someone has taken this course of action," Franklin, Long's spokesman, said Tuesday. "Our law firm will be able to respond once attorneys have had an opportunity to review the lawsuit."

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."

"Everybody knows that a bishop or church pastor ... cannot have any sort of sexual relations or sexual relationship with one of your parishioners," the lawyer, B.J. Bernstein, said at a news conference Tuesday evening. "And even worse to have it with two young men who trusted him and got to know him at a very young age."

Bernstein said she has alerted federal authorities about the allegations.

In June, Robinson was arrested and charged with burglary in connection with a break-in to Long's office. An iPhone, iPad and other items -- more than $1,300 worth -- were taken from the office, according to the police report.

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.

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.

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."

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 -- which the suit describes as an offshoot ministry of New Birth -- "knew of Defendant Long's sexually inappropriate conduct and did nothing to warn or protect [the plaintiffs]."

CNN's Ed Lavandera contributed to this report.

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