NATIONAL NEWS

5 members of Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations charged with child sexual abuse in Pennsylvania

Jul 9, 2023, 4:10 PM

Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry speaks during a news conference Friday in Philadelphia...

Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry speaks during a news conference Friday in Philadelphia. Mandatory Credit: Matt Slocum/AP

(CNN) — Five members of Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations were charged with child sexual abuse by the Pennsylvania’s attorney general on Friday, following a yearslong investigation into allegations of sexual abuse in the religious community.

The children were all also members of Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations, and the alleged abusers gained access to – and the trust of the victims – through the organization, authorities said.

The cases include alleged sexual abuse of 4-year-old child and a developmentally disabled victim.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry announced charges Friday against David Balosa, 62, Errol William Hall, 50, Shaun Sheffer, 45, Terry Booth, 57, and Luis Manuel Ayala-Velasquez, 55, for sexually abusing minors across the state.

A news release from the attorney general’s office describes Balosa as 61, but the attorney general said he was 62 in a news conference and court documents show a birth date that would have him turning 62 this year.

“The details of these crimes are sad and disturbing, facts which are made even more abhorrent because the defendants used their faith communities or their own families to gain access to victims,” Henry said in the news release.

“Our office will never stop working to seek justice for those who have been victimized, and we will continue to investigate and prosecute anyone who harms the most vulnerable in our society,” Henry said.

Sheffer “adamantly denies the allegations and looks forward to the opportunity to set the record straight,” Sheffer’s attorney Benjamin Steinberg told CNN in a written statement Sunday.

CNN is attempting to identify defense attorneys for the other four defendants.

CNN has reached out to the attorney general’s office and public defender’s offices in Philadelphia, Delaware, Butler, Allegheny, and Northampton counties, where each defendant has been charged, respectively.

The five defendants have each been charged and bail has been set, according to the attorney general’s office and criminal court dockets for three of the defendants reviewed by CNN.

5 men used religious community to find victims, attorney general says

The charges are part of an investigation into child abuse in the Jehovah’s Witnesses community launched by the attorney general’s office in 2019, according to a report from the AG’s office listing findings of fact and recommendations of charges against the defendants.

While the five cases are distinct from one another, they share a common thread, according to the attorney general. The defendants and victims were all part of Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations at the time of the alleged abuse.

Balosa, from Philadelphia, has been charged with indecent assault, aggravated indecent assault, and corruption of minors, according to a criminal docket filed in Philadelphia County.

He allegedly sexually assaulted a 4-year-old girl whom he had met through the Jehovah’s Witnesses community when he was in his 30s, according to the attorney general’s report. Balosa allegedly assaulted the girl in her family’s basement and told her not to tell anyone what he had done, the document states.

Hall was charged with indecent assault without consent, indecent assault forcible compulsion, and corruption of minors for inappropriately touching a 16-year-old girl whom he met through the community, according to a criminal docket filed in Delaware County.

Sheffer has been charged with rape, aggravated indecent assault, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, indecent assault, and corruption of minors, according to a criminal docket filed in Butler County.

He allegedly repeatedly raped his developmentally disabled younger sister, starting when she was 7 years old and he was 18, according to the report. The grand jury heard testimony that the rapes occurred approximately 50 to 75 times and lasted until the girl was 12 years old, according to the attorney general’s report.

Booth was charged with indecent assault and corruption of minors, according to the attorney general. He allegedly engaged in inappropriate sexual conversations with a 16-year-old boy he was mentoring within the Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation.

On at least one occasion, the conduct escalated into inappropriate touching without the victim’s consent, according to the attorney general’s findings of fact and recommendations of charges.

Ayala-Velasquez was charged with rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, indecent assault, aggravated indecent assault, endangering the welfare of children, and corruption of minors, the attorney general said. He allegedly sexually assaulted his daughter multiple times, according to the attorney general’s report.

“I have to say that I am thankful to the courageous survivors involved in these cases who were willing to share the horrific abuse that they went through. I am inspired by their strength,” Henry said at a news conference on Friday.

In October, the Pennsylvania’s attorney general charged four other members of Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations with child sexual abuse, according to a news release. In those cases, the alleged abusers also found their victims through the church, says the release.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses faith is a non-mainstream Christian denomination. The church was founded in Pennsylvania in the late 19th century and claimed over 110,000 congregations worldwide as of 2022, according to its website.


The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

KSL 5 TV Live

National News

Passengers check in at San Francisco International Airport on May 24, 2024 in San Francisco, Califo...

Rebekah Riess, CNN

TSA sets new record Friday for most travelers screened in a single day

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced that it set a new record for most travelers screened in a single day on Friday, according to a post from the agency on X, formerly known as Twitter.

8 hours ago

President Joe Biden at the US Military Academy commencement ceremony in West Point, New York, on Ma...

Aileen Graef, Athena Jones and Shania Shelton, CNN

Biden touts expansion of NATO and actions in the Middle East during West Point commencement

President Joe Biden touted the expansion of NATO, his actions in the Middle East and progress in lowering military sexual assaults in a commencement address to the West Point graduating class Saturday.

12 hours ago

FILE - Boeing's Starliner capsule atop an Atlas V rocket is seen at Space Launch Complex 41 at the ...

Marcia Dunn, The Associated Press

Boeing’s 1st astronaut flight now set for June after a review of small leak on new capsule

Boeing is now aiming for its first astronaut launch at the beginning of June, after spending the past few weeks struggling with more problems on the space capsule.

13 hours ago

$20 bills...

Hannah Schoenbaum Associated Press

Utah man declined $100K offer to travel to Congo on ‘security job’ that was covert coup attempt

The friend of a prominent Congolese opposition leader’s son said he turned down a six-figure offer to travel there from the U.S. as part of the family’s security detail in what turned out to be a failed coup attempt.

15 hours ago

Local police have warned residents to keep their pets inside and not to approach the animal. (Tiffa...

Rebekah Riess and Zoe Sottile, CNN

A pet primate is on the loose in South Carolina

South Carolina authorities are searching not for a fugitive prisoner or a stolen vehicle, but rather for a resident’s wayward primate

15 hours ago

Colorado State Capitol Building, partially obscured by trees, on East Colfax Avenue in Denver, Colo...

Jesse Bedayn, Associated Press/Report for America

Colorado governor signs bills regulating funeral homes after discovery of 190 rotting bodies

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed two bills into law Friday that overhaul state oversight of the funeral home industry after a series of gruesome discoveries, including 190 discomposing bodies in a facility, families being sent fake ashes and the unauthorized sale of body parts.

16 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Electrician repairing ceiling fan with lamps indoors...

Lighting Design

Stay cool this summer with ceiling fans

When used correctly, ceiling fans help circulate cool and warm air. They can also help you save on utilities.

Side view at diverse group of children sitting in row at school classroom and using laptops...

PC Laptops

5 Internet Safety Tips for Kids

Read these tips about internet safety for kids so that your children can use this tool for learning and discovery in positive ways.

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why Printer Security Should Be Top of Mind for Your Business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

5 members of Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations charged with child sexual abuse in Pennsylvania