*CNN is reporting that a third man has accused Atlanta-based megachurch pastor Bishop Eddie Long of sexual abuse – alleging coercion, deception and manipulation that involved a sexual relationship.
A 23-year-old Colorado Springs man says in his lawsuit that the alleged relationship with Long started when he was 17 and lasted until last year, CNN reports. The legal age of consent in Georgia is 16.
The news comes one day after lawsuits were filed Tuesday in DeKalb County, Georgia, by two men who accuse Long of using his position as a spiritual authority and bishop to coerce them and employees of his New Birth Missionary Baptist Church into sex.
Long has announced he will hold a press conference to address the allegations on Thursday morning, CNN reports. His spokesman Art Frankin says the pastor “categorically and adamantly denies these allegations.”
“There’s been a lot of chatter since yesterday, but these complaints that have been filed are definitely without merit,” said Frankin. “There’s been a lot of chatter since yesterday, but these complaints that have been filed are definitely without merit.”
As previously reported, 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. [Watch clip below.]
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.