Bill Murdock, head of Eblen Charities in Asheville, N.C., was a school teacher in the 1980s when he was charged with a sex crime involving a teenage student. He pleaded guilty to a reduced charge but says he's innocent.

A servant to the poor: Was he 'a wolf in sheep's clothing'?

Updated 12:33 PM ET, Wed March 20, 2019

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Asheville, North Carolina (CNN)A congressman paid tribute to him, the county school system dedicated a library in his name and a state university awarded him an honorary degree, calling him a source of inspiration and emulation.

Bill Murdock has led Eblen Charities, one of western North Carolina's largest nonprofits, for nearly three decades, cultivating a reputation as a humble servant to the poor and a disciple of Mother Teresa.
But a CNN investigation into his background paints a different picture. Murdock was charged with a felony sex crime with a child in 1988 and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in a deal that one prosecutor initially involved in the case now considers an injustice. And he earned prestige with a resume built on exaggerated and dubious achievements.
One award that has burnished his image, the Mother Teresa Prize for Global Peace and Leadership, sounds impressive but came from a company he incorporated out of his home. He claims an educational background from some of the country's most prestigious universities -- Harvard and Stanford, where his attendance consisted of one-week courses in nonprofit management.
A familiar face in Asheville, frequently appearing in the local media, Murdock, 63, has risen to prominence in this tourist mecca nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains while his criminal record has remained largely unknown.
When his conviction has surfaced, as it did last year after the University of North Carolina at Asheville chose him for an honorary degree and to be its commencement speaker, Murdock offered this explanation: A woman came on to him, he rebuffed her and she retaliated by falsely accusing him of sexual misconduct with her teenage daughter.
    That account satisfied the UNCA Board of Trustees at the time. It also has satisfied the Eblen Charities board and an influential group of Asheville powerbrokers.
    But CNN tracked down the victim from that case, who has silently watched Murdock's stature grow. The Murdock she knew was her eighth-grade teacher, the 30-year-old married man who she says rubbed his body against hers, promised a future together and sexually abused her throughout her freshman year in high school.
    "He would go into very elaborate stories about our dating, our wedding, and he always played himself as the hero," said Shelley Love Baldwin, now 47. "My family was struggling financially. I was struggling. I just felt like he targeted us.... He saw vulnerability, and he swept in."
    Shelley Love Baldwin was a middle school student when her teacher Bill Murdock inappropriately touched her, she says.
    The abuse left Baldwin suicidal and in therapy much of her adult life, she said, and traumatized her entire family.
    "It's been painful for years, and it just comes in waves of emotion for all of us," said her brother, Scott Love, a pediatrician in Asheville. "And my family, I think we've all learned how to deal with it in some ways and never learned how to deal with it in others."
    Murdock maintains his innocence and denies ever abusing Baldwin. He said he became close to the Loves while separated from his first wife and that the family was unhappy when the couple reunited.
    Murdock gave a 90-minute interview to CNN and refuted the allegations of the victim and her family. "There's a whole lot more to this," he said. "I don't mind telling you the whole story....I just want to make sure I'm doing it the correct way." Murdock said he needed to consult his lawyer first but never explained further, despite reporters' follow-up phone calls and another visit to his office. The lawyer who Murdock mentioned told CNN he did not represent him. He referred questions to Murdock's defense attorney from the 1988 case, who did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
    CNN interviewed Baldwin's parents, a former classmate and two medical profes