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Atlanta pastor to respond to lawsuits

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Spokesman denies claims against bishop
  • Eddie Long is planning a Thursday news conference, a spokesman says
  • Another lawsuit is filed against pastor Eddie Long
  • Long's spokesman says the lawsuits are "without merit"
  • The spokesman says Long's church members have rallied around him

Atlanta, Georgia (CNN) -- Atlanta-based megachurch pastor Eddie Long, accused of coercing young men into sexual relationships, will go on radio and make a statement Thursday following civil lawsuits a spokesman has termed a "shakedown" for money.

Long's appearances will follow Wednesday's filing of another lawsuit, in DeKalb County, Georgia, State Court. It was brought on behalf of Jamal Parris, now 23, who was a teenager at the time he joined Long's church.

The suit, which claims Long encouraged Parris to call him "Daddy," also names the church and a youth academy as defendants.

Allegations that Long coerced 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," Art Franklin, the pastor's spokesman, said Wednesday.

Video: Minister accused of coercion
Video: Megachurch pastor under fire

Long "categorically and adamantly denies these allegations," Franklin said. "There's been a lot of chatter since yesterday, but these complaints that have been filed are definitely without merit."

Long will make a statement Thursday morning, he said. Long's attorney and supporters are expected to stand with him.

Syndicated columnist and CNN political analyst Roland Martin said on Twitter that he will talk with Long at 7:15 a.m. ET Thursday on "The Tom Joyner Morning Show," a syndicated radio program.

Parris joined New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in 2001, when he was 14. Long counseled Parris when the latter talked about his strained relationship with his father and got him a job as a summer camp counselor at New Birth, the suit states.

The suit, also filed by attorney B.J. Bernstein, claims Long engaged in sexual acts with Parris. The young man eventually became a church employee and served as personal assistant to Long and traveled with him, the suit says. The pastor continued to engage in sexual activity with Parris and gave him money, trips and gifts, the suit says.

It says Parris left the church in late 2009, "disillusioned, confused and angry about his relationship with Defendant Long." The bishop manipulated and deceived Parris into thinking that the acts were a "healthy component of his spiritual life," the suit states.

The civil action filed Wednesday contends that Long's LongFellows Youth Academy and New Birth knew or should have known of Long's behavior and that they failed to warn Parris, who lives in Colorado, and his family, thereby allowing the minister to coerce and induce Parris into engaging in sexual relationships with him.

The lawsuits describe LongFellows 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."

Parris also claims that the institutions were negligent in retaining the pastor.

Lawsuits filed Tuesday in DeKalb County by two men 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.

This is actually a case of retaliation and a shakedown for money by men with some serious credibility issues.
--Art Franklin, pastor's spokesman
  • Eddie Long
  • Sexual Offenses
  • Religion
  • Atlanta

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.

Bernstein, who represents Parris, 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'sJohn 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.

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 that 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 lawsuits 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 eventually was 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.

Bernstein 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.' "