Updated: 04/16/2014 11:55 AM
Created: 04/15/2014 12:45 PM WDIO.com
A religious leader has been charged with 59 counts of criminal sexual conduct involving two members of a "Maidens Group" within a Pine County-based church he led called the River Road Fellowship. The church had owned properties near Finlayson, before selling them and moving out of state.
Pine County authorities announced Tuesday an arrest warrant has been issued for 52-year-old Victor Arden Barnard. The sheriff's office says he was last known to be in the Spokane, Wash., area, and police are looking for him there.
According to the criminal complaint, the two victims were among several girls and young women who lived apart from their families in a camp Barnard set up near Finlayson. One victim alleges Barnard sexually abused her from the ages of 13 to 22. The other alleges he abused her for several years starting when she was 12. The incidents allegedly took place back between 2000 and 2009.
One victim said that Barnard preached to her multiple times that having sex with him was normal "because it was God's Word." The other victim said that she kept track of when the incidents took place on calendars, and turned those into investigators.
According to the complaint, Barnard told the girls' parents that he might have sex with their daughters. This was allegedly after he already had. The complaint said the girls were told not to tell anyone what happened.
The Pine County Sheriff's Office said it is coordinating with the State of Washington and Homeland Security to apprehend Barnard.
Chief Deputy Steve Blackwell told us it was a three year investigation. "This was always about holding the person accountable for the acts he committed against these young women, who were very courageous for coming forward. It's only a matter of time before we catch him."
The sheriff's office asked anyone with information on Barnard's whereabouts to call their tip line at 320-629-8342.
(Copyright 2014 WDIO-TV, LLC, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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