- Illustration by Tom Carlson
One * * *
For a man who purports to be so boldly committed to truth, American missionary and Christian pastor Tom Randall has been at the center of – in fact, may be the chief architect of – a long and wicked deception.
Randall is a gregarious man with an earnest, unsophisticated preaching style. He stands 6'5" and ambles about with the busted-knee hitch of a former serious athlete. He has never fully conquered his Rs, but the speech impediment has endeared him to friends, colleagues, golfers on the PGA Senior Tour, where he served for several years as chaplain, and megachurch congregations nationwide. To these audiences and others he has told versions of the same story about himself: He grew up as a thief on the inner-city streets of Detroit and was shepherded to Christ by a college basketball coach.
These days, the 65-year-old Randall lives in Stow, Ohio, with his wife Karen and preaches from time to time at the nondenominational Hudson megachurch Christ Community Chapel, where he has been on the payroll since 2014, shortly after he returned to the states from a brief and highly sensationalized stint in a Manila detention center.
The Philippines. That's where Randall lived as a missionary for years, purportedly playing professional basketball and spreading the word of God "through sports, recreation [and] competition."
In January 2014, Randall was back in the Philippines on a semi-regular mission trip when he was arrested during an early morning raid of Sankey Samaritan Orphanage, the children's home he founded in 1998. Randall, the facility's Filipino manager Toto Luchavez and Toto's son Jake were handcuffed and taken into custody.
The Filipino National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) had received credible reports of physical and sexual abuse at Sankey, and all three men were charged with crimes related to sex trafficking. Nine of the 31 children and young adults living there then gave sworn statements corroborating the alleged abuse, what the arrest affidavit referred to as "a pattern of continuing sexual abuse and exploitation" and "a continuing and pervasive threat of violence and intimidation."
Randall, who was arrested on lesser charges – criminal negligence and obstruction of justice — was released after 22 days. Throughout his incarceration, he accrued a massive social media following. Thousands of Christians in Northeast Ohio and all over the world were led to believe that he had been unjustly detained.
U.S. Senator Rob Portman interceded on Randall's behalf, applying pressure on the American embassy to secure his release. Scene and the Akron Beacon-Journal both reported on the story at the time.
During the past five years, Christ Community Chapel (CCC) and its lead pastor Joe Coffey have enlarged and inflamed Randall's story in language familiar to Christians. Randall was persecuted, in this version. The abuse allegations at Sankey were just that: allegations; nothing more than "gossip and slander" from a "rival missionary" with a "personal vendetta" named Joe Mauk, who happened to have been Randall's best friend for decades but for reasons unknown "went bad." This is the version that Randall himself has propelled, providing shifting details of his ordeal at speaking engagements across the country. In Randall's account, he is the victim, not the young people who testified to being beaten and raped for years – young people to whom Randall refers, incidentally, as his sons and daughters.
Randall's elastic relationship with truth is well-known to close listeners of his talks. Some have reported to Scene that his facts are wont to change, that his personal history, and indeed, the story of his tribulations in Manila, have a foggy and even improvised quality. Your "weirdo meters go up," when you hear him talk about the Sankey case, said one current member of CCC.
A missionary in the Philippines who was present at the raid and throughout the ensuing legal battles in Manila was even more explicit in a 2014 conversation with Scene. She called Randall's account of his detention a "total fabrication."
Randall has nevertheless been mythologized by close friends like Joe Coffey – his life story is "more like Jesus than anyone I've ever been close to," Coffey wrote in 2017– and Randall seems to enjoy being a mythic figure.
"I kind of assumed he was a [Christian] celebrity because of the way he presents himself," a blogger who goes by Truth Seeker told Scene after hearing Randall speak in 2018. "But he's not. He just acts like he is."
Sarah Klingler is part of a core group of local advocates now pushing for an independent third-party investigation of the Sankey abuse and CCC's handling of it. She told Scene that Randall is not only persuasive and charming, but also a master of "partial truths." He has used these partial truths, she said, to weave together bigger lies. Another advocate said Randall's stories were full of "embedded truths," which made them difficult to untangle, much less to refute. Randall's partial and embedded truths may be habits born of proselytizing, the need to tinker with personal anecdotes to more effectively dramatize biblical themes.
Or perhaps it's a pathology.
In 2002, Randall was interviewed by The Oklahoman about his role as chaplain for the PGA Senior Tour. He recounted to the reporter, as he often does, the tale of his conversion under Judson University basketball coach Dick Helm. During the conversation, he said – or hinted; the material was not a direct quote — that he was drafted into the NBA.
Randall was among the national leaders in scoring and was drafted by the NBA's New Orleans Jazz. He was on an exhibition tour overseas when he received word of the Jazz' interest.
"I just thought, 'Why would I go home and go through that when I've got a great thing right here I loved?'" Randall said. "Plus, they already had Pete Maravich. There was just no way. The guy was a legend. You've got to be realistic. I don't think I was being negative. There was just no way.
"Plus I loved travel and cultures. I've learned a number of languages. I loved the people of the Philippines and how anxious they were to have me play there."
As presented, the above is absurd. Randall claims that he chose to forego a lucrative professional basketball career in the U.S. because the Jazz ... already had Pete Maravich? The implication is that he preferred to be a big fish in a small, exotic pond than ride the bench in the NBA.
Except he wasn't drafted. No player named Tom Randall, nor any player from Judson University, was ever drafted in Jazz franchise history.
Maybe this is one of Randall's partial truths. Maybe he was playing on an exhibition tour overseas and maybe the Jazz really did express some interest. Maybe the Jazz encouraged him to enter the draft? Maybe he has told the story so many times that it gradually became, "I was drafted by the Jazz and turned them down." This of course makes his decision to play in the Philippines much weightier. Much more deliberate.
But his career in the Philippines is also suspect. The 2002 story above, and dozens of others in 2014, referenced Randall's career in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA). In Scene's first story on the subject, we referred to Randall as a "former professional basketball player in the Philippines and longtime missionary there." But shortly after the Sankey raid, a Filipino journalist contacted a veteran PBA statistician, who couldn't find any record of Tom Randall in the league's annual manuals, dating back to 1975.
Maybe he played in the Manila Industrial and Commercial Athletic Association (MICAA), a precursor to the PBA, the story surmised, but even that wasn't clear.
"Actually I called several old-timers, which included former MICAA players, officials and senior scribes, but no one remembers Tom..." the statistician said. "I think he played with a missionary team that visited Manila and guested in the MICAA."
If that's the case, it's a far cry from The Oklahoman's profile.
This tangential historical matter is relevant only insofar as it illustrates the significant ways facts can evolve in Tom Randall's hands. He exaggerates. He misremembers. He uses partial truths to tell bigger lies – that is, to tell better stories.
Turning down an NBA career to play pro ball in the Philippines, where the nation's people were "anxious" to have him participate, is a much more compelling narrative than playing glorified rec hoops with a traveling missionary team. In the same way, growing up as a thief on the streets of Detroit makes for a more dramatic tale of Christian conversion than that of a young man whose pump was primed by the decision to attend a "conservative, Evangelical Christian University" like Judson.
And in the same way, a moody teenage girl who claimed to have been kissed by Toto Luchavez but then recanted (CCC's version of the Sankey abuse allegations) makes for a more palatable scandal – certainly a more Christian one – than the repeated instances of sodomy, oral sex, other "lascivious acts" and physical beatings that were documented in charges against Toto and Jake Luchavez and the sworn testimony of the orphans.
Randall's stories have proven to be hits not only with megachurch congregations but with wealthy evangelical donors, whom he has courted for years to fund his nonprofit World Harvest Ministries. That organization, which paid for Sankey Samaritan Orphanage (named for donor James K. Sankey), was folded into Christ Community Chapel in August 2014, at which point its significant financial assets were no longer searchable. When CCC members recently asked to review the church's finances, including its continuing expenditures in the Philippines, they were denied.
Randall's truthfulness requires scrutiny in the context of the Sankey abuse allegations because Pastor Joe Coffey trusts Randall unconditionally. That means that Randall's version of events in 2013 and 2014 has been the version communicated to CCC's large, wealthy exurban congregation. The overwhelming majority of the CCC community has been content to accept this version, though several current and former members are now agitating for transparency and accountability.
Only due to recent pressure from this group of advocates and national Christian bloggers has CCC agreed to an "internal review" of the case. That review is currently being conducted by a woman named Suzanne Lewis-Johnson, a former FBI agent and member of CCC who runs a nonprofit called RAHAB Ministries that receives financial support from both CCC and the Sankey Family Foundation, (a fact that has been scrubbed from RAHAB's website).
CCC had kept the identity of Lewis-Johnson and its financial relationship with RAHAB Ministries confidential until it was exposed by a Christian watchdog blog. Several of the local advocates have told Scene that because of this relationship, they believe the internal review is likely to produce biased and incomplete results.
But momentum toward truth is now on the advocates side, they feel. Scandals at Christian churches in the past year, including an abuse scandal at Chicago's Willow Creek Church, and disclosures of widespread abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention, all on the heels of the broader #metoo movement, have awakened a desire for more open, rigorous, independent investigations at religious institutions like CCC, where hierarchical governing bodies usually insist on, and biblically justify, the handling of these matters in-house.
"Everyone knows about the abuse scandals in the Catholic Church," said Dee Parsons, whose Wartburg Watch blog documented CCC's hostility to one of its members in 2018. "But the Christian church needs to confront these cases as well. When I saw what was happening at CCC, when I saw the church go on the offensive the way they did, my red flag radar went way up. I don't know how people with half a brain can sit in that congregation and not believe that there's something really, really bad going on."
Another explosive development arrived this spring, when Dee Parsons published, for the first time, allegations of misconduct against Tom Randall himself. These were not allegations by the orphans at Sankey, but by Priscilla Leighton and Miriam Bongolan, both daughters of Joe Mauk – the "rival missionary" with a "personal vendetta."
Neither CCC nor Tom Randall has publicly responded to those allegations, and CCC Executive Director of Operations Stacey DiNardo told Scene that Coffey and Randall would not be available to answer our questions until the completion of Suzanne Lewis-Johnson's review. When we disclosed that the Mauk daughters' allegations against Randall would be included in our story and warranted a response from Randall or CCC, DiNardo reiterated that they would not comment until after they had read and discussed the review.
- Photo YouTube screen grab / Free Tom Randall
- Tom Randall, proselytizing via basketball
Lewis-Johnson told Scene in mid-July that she hoped we would be able to see her review soon. "Wishing I could write faster," she wrote in an email.
The full story of what Tom Randall has done, what happened at Sankey, and how Christ Community Chapel has distorted the story has not been widely disseminated. Scene conducted more than a dozen interviews over the past three months, reviewed hundreds of pages of court filings, emails and media reports and revisited audio files of our reporting in 2014, along with recorded conversations between Tom Randall, CCC personnel and the local Justice for Sankey advocates, in order to assemble a record of the complicated case.
Current members of CCC spoke to Scene on condition of anonymity, fearing backlash and citing church "covenants" they signed – membership agreements, basically – which are legally binding.
"The bottom line is that among the church leadership, there's total trust in Tom Randall and his account," one current member said, "so truth — quote unquote — is being filtered through Tom's perspective, which we've come to see as being incredibly warped."
Cari Gintz, an advocate whose email correspondence with Pastor Joe Coffey was featured on The Wartburg Watch blog, and who has been discredited as "disturbed" and "unchristian" by CCC leadership, told Scene that she's now convinced there's something rotten at CCC.
"It's not just Tom Randall. I don't let Coffey off the hook either," she said. "There's no way he skates away from this and pretends he didn't know what was happening. They all know there's a problem, and I think they're afraid. Christ Community Chapel is corrupt to the core."
Two * * *
Miriam Bongolan got married in 2013 in California, only months before the Sankey abuse allegations first leaked. Tom Randall officiated the ceremony. He was her father's best friend and a figure so close to the family that the Mauk daughters called him Uncle Tom. Many people in the Philippines called Randall "Uncle Tom," Miriam told Scene, but for the Mauks, this was a special honor.
Randall and his wife Karen were regulars in the Mauks' life. Miriam and her older sister Priscilla were the youngest of five, and as girls, Randall doted on them. He was known for always having cash on his person and spending freely, buying gifts for his "children" at Sankey and special extravagances for his "princesses" – a term he reserved for young girls of whom he was especially fond. Both Miriam and Priscilla were princesses.
In the years following the Sankey raid, Miriam and Priscilla reexamined their childhood experiences with Randall and recognized much of his behavior as sexual grooming.
In late 2018, they decided to go public with allegations against him. In an interview from the Philippines earlier this month, Miriam told Scene that while these allegations were reported past the statute of limitations, and while she was "100-percent aware" that they would be twisted or dismissed out of hand by CCC, she and her sister felt it was important to be fully transparent in a case that has been marked by misinformation.
"We hope our stories help people realize that Tom shouldn't be trusted with his version of events in the Sankey case," Miriam said.
The allegations involve, among other things, unwanted touching. The most invasive instances were in the form of what Randall termed "medical massages." As a former athlete, he professed expertise in this sort of treatment. This was in addition to a general handsiness, which — much like his over-the-top generosity — was rarely seen as unusual by others, including Miriam and Priscilla's parents.
"He created a culture where that was normal," said Priscilla Leighton (Mauk), in an interview with Scene. "He gave big gifts, he handed out money. But you can do that in the Christian community. It's 'God's generosity,' you know? There were times when I was uncomfortable, but I never thought it was wrong."
After a car crash when Priscilla was a sophomore in high school, Randall visited her multiple times at her home to provide "medical massages," visits sanctioned by her parents.
"He was allowed in my room and would close the door all but an inch," Priscilla wrote in the account first published by the Wartburg Watch. "My bed was behind the door. Before coming in he would tell me to take off my bra and prepare myself. I laid face-up while he massaged my stomach and chest under my t-shirt. I felt terribly uncomfortable but thought it was normal. I had never had a massage before so this must be what they are like, and people just love massages. He massaged around and around my breasts, touching everything but my nipple— therefore I thought nothing was wrong."
Randall told Priscilla that she was his "favorite princess." He carried around a photo of her in his wallet, bought her "whatever [she] wanted," (including a horse), and once pulled up her shirt to examine a new bra she was wearing. On her prom night, Priscilla wrote, Randall paid for a hotel room for her and her friend and stayed at the room overnight with them, without his wife present. This excessive attention occurred while Priscilla was in high school. Once she went to college in the U.S., Randall's interest faded. Priscilla stressed to Scene that at the time, the shopping trips and the touching didn't faze her. That was just Uncle Tom being Uncle Tom. She remained close enough with him that he officiated her wedding, too, in 2005.
Miriam, five years younger than Priscilla, was another one of Randall's princesses. She said that he tended to treat only select girls that way, and, from her recollection, only when they were between the ages of 12 and 17.
"The Sankey girls were all his 'daughters,'" Miriam told Scene. "There was only one who was a 'princess.' We think that's maybe where it crossed a line into targeting in a sexual sense."
Miriam described one instance – also recounted on her Facebook page – of Tom Randall buying her a $100 Barbie set on the condition that Miriam give him "five hugs and five kisses," which he collected throughout that day.
"I haven't forgotten every time you played with my hair during a movie (Soul Surfer, 2006), massaged my legs (Jurassic Park, 4th grade), handed me money, and forced me to hug and kiss you in order to get a gift," Miriam wrote in the March post. "I know that is grooming now, but back then you made it normal because you did that with all of your princesses. You were my second father. My inspiration. I believed Christians could do anything because of your amazing stories."
Miriam said that even after she and Priscilla had discussed Randall's behavior privately, they hesitated to come forward for several reasons. In the first place, they knew how the allegations were likely to be received.
"CCC's only official response that they like to use is, 'Nothing on the internet is true,'" Miriam said. "We've already [supposedly] forged court documents. My family is a criminal family. I am emotional and overdramatic. This would just be, 'Oh, Joe Mauk is using his children to destroy a rival missionary.' And they'd say it didn't come out until now because we're grasping at straws."
Secondly, Miriam said they were concerned about the orphans at Sankey, most of whom are now grown adults. All but six of them are still living under the protection and financial support of Tom and CCC. Their education, housing, food and living expenses have been paid for by Tom, World Harvest/CCC and private donors in Australia for years. Furthermore, whenever Tom visits, he lavishes cash and gifts upon them – an arrangement that a missionary in 2014 didn't hesitate to call "bribery." Miriam said that the orphans, in addition to being fearful of repercussions from Toto Luchavez, tacitly understand that the money from Tom is an inducement to stay quiet, to support the narrative that no abuse occurred at Sankey.
After she came forward with her allegations, Miriam told Scene, two of the girls under Tom and Toto's umbrella reached out to her and said that what she described wasn't abuse. This was just "fatherly affection," they said, and Tom and other visiting missionaries treated them that way too.
"Despite the manipulation and control, they really do love Tom," Miriam said. "And we knew that our stories could be painful for them. He was making a lot of mistakes that were obvious, but we wanted to protect [the kids] from this side of him. But then we realized that by trying to protect the kids, we weren't allowing people to have the full story. And we also could be putting other children in danger."
Priscilla said that, in addition to these considerations, she simply didn't have the understanding and vocabulary to recognize her situation for what it was until she was an adult.
- Photo Courtesy Priscilla Leighton
- Priscilla Leighton and Miriam Bongoloan
"But it was absolutely textbook," she said, noting that for most perpetrators of grooming and molestation, cases rarely happen in isolation. Her primary motivation for speaking out, then, was to protect future victims and to empower past victims to do the same. She agreed with Miriam about the main reason it took so many years to come forward.
"It's obvious," she said. "Nobody believes us. We got bus-chucked for saying Toto was a scumbag. Can you even fathom what would happen if we said anything negative against precious, Godly, chosen Uncle Tom?"
She said the result of going public has not been what she expected. Instead of being discredited or dismissed, her account has been almost entirely ignored.
"Guess who I've heard from?" She said. "No one." (She amended her statement later, saying that she did receive a single email from a pastor in California who read the account and said his church would no longer be partnering in ministry with Tom Randall.)
Miriam said that for her, accountability means a third-party investigation at CCC. Like the local Justice for Sankey advocates, she suggested the services of GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment), a known and respected outfit for this specific work.
"A third-party investigative service would bring closure to the case," she said. "They could determine what sort of care is required for the victims and ensure that safeguards are in place so this doesn't happen again."
Miriam Bongolan said that learning and spreading the truth was important both for the victims in the Philippines and for the congregation back in Ohio, but that truth couldn't be fully uncovered unless people were willing to confront it.
"If we're going to call ourselves Christians, we have to be honest," she said. "People should be able to speak the truth. Children should be able to speak the truth. And when people in power start restricting the truth, it becomes a very dangerous and spiritually abusive situation... [CCC] is actively putting lies out there, deceiving their own community, pushing people out for disagreeing. That's unsettling whether you're a Christian or not."
Suzanne Lewis-Johnson, the former FBI agent, wrote in a letter to the CCC congregation that the church's investigation should be entrusted to another law enforcement official with "extensive experience" interviewing child abuse victims and interrogating child abuse subjects. But when she and CCC leadership found no one qualified, she said she reluctantly took on the Sankey review herself. It is unknown if she has conducted interviews with victims in the Philippines as part of her work. She did not respond when Scene asked specific questions about the review, including whether or not the allegations against Tom Randall would be included. She also did not respond to a request for an interview to speak about her findings before the review's publication.
Three * * *
When Tom Randall returned from the Philippines in 2014, riding a warm wave of good will, Pastor Joe Coffey lamented the rampant misinformation about the Sankey case then in the press. There had been a strain of coverage that reported, based on shreds of early inaccurate information, that Randall was himself charged with abusing the orphans at Sankey, and that the children's home was a front for sex trafficking.
"But time and truth go hand in hand," Coffey told the CCC congregation. "The first part of time and truth going hand in hand is after 22 days, all the charges were dropped against Tom and he was set free. The second part of the truth that's coming out is that the charges against Jake and Toto have been downgraded and they're out on bail ... Now what we're praying for is for all the truth to come out. Period. Whatever it is. Let all the truth come out. And then we pray that the press will cover all the truth, as well as what they've covered so far."
But the press was unable to do so – and didn't, and hasn't – in large part because Randall and Coffey were in control of the narrative.
In September 2014, Coffey Tweeted that at long last, all charges had been dropped against Toto and Jake and that the January raid at Sankey had been deemed "completely unjustified" by a judge. He closed his message with the hashtag: #timeandtruth.
When Scene asked Coffey his source of the information, he said that word had come directly from Tom Randall, who had spoken with his lawyers in the Philippines. By that point, World Harvest Ministries had been folded into Christ Community Chapel, so Randall's lawyers were lawyers that CCC was paying for – three attorneys from the Manila corporate law firm Martinez Vergara Gonzales & Serrano (MVGS).
As on-the-ground sources in the Philippines, including Joe Mauk, told Scene at the time, charges had not been dropped at all. In fact, nothing of substance had been discussed in the courtroom. The lawyers for Toto and Jake Luchavez were merely challenging the legality of the January arrests.
"This is the old technique of seeking to get valid charges tossed out over a legal technicality," Mauk told Scene. "Even had it been successful, [CCC and Coffey] are not being truthful. A failure to proceed to trial on a technicality is not the same as all charges being dropped! The truth of the charges was never examined!"
The truth (and the scope) of the charges have still not been examined: not by a courtroom, not by a government agency or independent investigator, and — until Suzanne Lewis-Johnson's current "internal review" — not by CCC.
In 2017, after years of delays and legal maneuvering by the defense, the Sankey victims who were still willing to testify decided to drop the case. They had been informed that a trial could drag on for 10 years or more, and, recognizing the power and wealth of Toto and Jake's legal team (paid for by CCC), they made the decision to move on with their lives. Sources in the Philippines told Scene that this timeline was not uncommon.
"It explains why the wealthy and connected in the Philippines rarely see jail time," Joe Mauk wrote in a 2016 email.
- Photo Courtesy Sarah Klingler
- Cari Gintz and Sarah Klingler outside Christ Community Chapel in June.
According to Tom Randall and Joe Coffey, this outcome is synonymous with exoneration. It means that no abuse of any kind ever occurred at Sankey. The charges, they maintain, were merely the result of "gossip and slander" from Joe Mauk. The only incident of alleged abuse they have mentioned publicly was a girl's claim that Toto Luchavez had forcibly kissed her. Coffey and Randall both say that the girl made that story up.
"Joe [Mauk]'s original charge was that a worker at the orphanage had kissed one of the girls," Coffey told his congregation in a January 2014 sermon, (though this was hardly Joe Mauk's charge.) "That ended up to be untrue. The girl recanted the story and said she made it up because she was angry that privileges had been taken away as discipline."
Randall's version is much the same.
"Even the girl who accused our staff member of a kiss has asked forgiveness from him and Karen and me," he wrote in a 2017 blog post on the eve of another mission trip to the Philippines.
But these accounts are demonstrably false. In the first place, there were two girls, not one, who made the initial allegations of being kissed by Toto Luchavez. They smuggled letters out to Miriam Bongolan in 2013 so that Joe Mauk could alert Tom Randall about abuse at Sankey with the support of documentation.
Coffey and Randall have, in other instances, acknowledged that two girls accused Toto of kissing them. The most detailed explanation is Randall's, from a Dec. 2018 meeting held with the local Justice for Sankey advocates, (audio from which was provided to Scene).
"I talked to [the girls] and both of them recanted and said, 'We're sorry Dad. We got our phones taken away and we were mad at Toto, so we did this,'" he said. "They said we don't want to make any trouble. We're sorry we did that... They were in tears."
But this must be a lie. The girl who has been most public about her accusations has not recanted. She described three discrete instances of being kissed by Toto in a 2014 interview and, as recently as last fall, posted a video to Facebook calling for a proper investigation.
In addition to misrepresenting these allegations, Coffey and Randall have never once acknowledged the far more serious abuse recounted in the arrest affidavits, the criminal charges and the orphans' sworn testimony: that Toto Luchavez, Tom Randall's best friend and former golf caddy in the Philippines, did "with lewd design and by means of force, threat and intimidation" commit lascivious acts against minor children; that Jake Luchavez, Tom Randall's godson, sodomized multiple minor boys, committed lascivious acts and did insert his penis into the mouths of victims against the victims' will; that a third man, a "dorm parent" at Sankey, made a victim perform fellatio with mayonnaise; that the orphans were regularly and violently disciplined; that Toto openly brandished a firearm to threaten them; that at least three of them were raped.
The blogger who goes by Truth Seeker wrote, in a post earlier this month, that Tom Randall was surely aware of these facts – "Anything else would be gross negligence" – and surmised that there were three logical possibilities about the dilution and distortion of the story in Ohio: 1) Coffey lied, 2) Randall lied or 3) Coffey misunderstood.
A fourth possibility is that both Coffey and Randall lied, that they both knew the situation at Sankey in crystalline detail and conspired to deceive their flock, an Evangelical Christian herd who had been conditioned to respect and obey authority figures; and who, in posh Hudson, Ohio, were unlikely to substantiate allegations of abuse on the other side of the world.
One of the most outrageous deceptions was the putative conditions in which Randall was detained after the raid. Details of mortal danger and deprivation were used to solicit prayers and support from American Christians, the fervor of which support helped secure Randall's release.
If not the explicit goal of these details, the effect was to create the illusion that Tom Randall was the victim. The wronged man. The martyr. The absolute center of the story. In America, the scandal became a missionary's wrongful incarceration, not sexual abuse at the orphanage he founded. Far from being a "partial truth," sources in the Philippines (in 2014 and this year) told Scene that the story of his detention was brazenly false, a "total fabrication."
Coffey communicated to the CCC congregation and watchers on social media throughout January 2014 that Randall was confined in an overcrowded cell full of murderous thugs, that riots and turf wars were ongoing; that food and medical care were forbidden; that Tom was regularly ill and frequently passing out. In correspondence with Cari Gintz in 2018, he said that Tom had been in counseling "for PTSD, to deal with the night terrors he has had at least 5 times per week for the last 5 years from the beatings he took from the NBI while in jail."
Randall still talks about his detention at speaking engagements, and he can be counted upon to pepper in (presumably wholly fictional) details about his cellmates. Take, for example, this unbelievable characterization from a talk he gave to an Illinois church crowd in 2015:
"We had 12 guys who were in for multiple murders. They were hired to kill people. We had a number of drug leaders. And then we had four Muslims, two of which were from Iran. The Iranian built the bombs and two of the other Muslims blew them up: one on a bus, one at a business."
A missionary who visited Randall's detention center at the time told Scene that the facility was a "big NBI compound between two parking lots" and that Randall was never with more than 7-10 people, including Toto and Jake. His wife was there regularly. "If he was ever sick, he would've been taken to an infirmary like anybody else," she said.
Priscilla Leighton told Scene that the joke among local NBI agents was that Tom Randall "became" gravely ill whenever he had visitors.
To those who have questioned these and other details in the Randall/Coffey narrative, or provided evidence that supports an alternate account, the response from CCC has generally been hostile. Two current church members told Scene that the CCC elders – 10 senior members, all male, who function as a board of directors – have been "heavily pushed" not to look at anything on the internet about the case. Coffey has accused local advocates of not handling the matter "biblically," which means (via Matthew 18:15-17) addressing conflict in person and in private.
But when local advocates confronted Tom Randall in December, Randall got more than he bargained for. The Justice for Sankey advocates had done their research and asked a series of pointed questions that forced Randall to present his account in detail. He made several admissions that would be shocking, if true. He said, for example, that not only Senator Rob Portman but former President George W. Bush called the Philippines to negotiate his release. He also said that he had never read the affidavits of the orphans — his children — though he questioned their legitimacy regardless. He suggested that the authorities, (or perhaps the Mauks?) wrote the affidavits for the children, and that the children signed them because they "just wanted to go home."
When the advocates asked about a third-party investigation at CCC and suggested GRACE, Stacey DiNardo, who was in attendance, said that the investigative group they'd assembled was more qualified than GRACE. She said the investigators did not have a financial relationship with CCC.
"There is a loose association with one individual, who honestly reached out to us, who is in correlation with [the investigative group]," DiNardo said. "But that is why you have other individuals as a part of this group that have absolutely zero association."
(As was later disclosed, the internal review was being conducted by Suzanne Lewis-Johnson alone, who did indeed have a financial association with CCC.)
The meeting came to an abrupt and riotous end when Cari Gintz, one of the local advocates, said that Christians all over the world had been praying for Randall to receive the "gift of repentance."
"The evidence clearly shows, almost beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there was a cover-up of horrid atrocities against orphans. Horrible atrocities of sodomy, of rape," Gintz said.
"Based on what," Tom Randall responded, "your research?"
CCC 'Next Generation' Pastor Jimmy Kozy, also in attendance, noted that if there had been any evidence of that kind, it would have shown up in court. "This is the end of the meeting," he said. "Cari, this is the end of the meeting. It's over."
"Your challenge is with a Philippine Court," Randall exclaimed, "not me."
"You guys believe it's finished," Gintz responded, as voices in the room shouted over one another. "Let the chips fall where they may. But I will tell you, this is Willow Creek incarnate."
"Great!" Randall fumed. "You can write everybody in the world on the internet. Create anything you want. It doesn't change the truth!"
Four * * *
Christ Community Chapel's nondenominational brand of Christianity is creedless, extremely modern, (also extremely conservative), bespoke.
"At CCC, we're not about creating a religious experience," its website says. "We're real people searching for a real faith. Whether you're wondering who God is, following him faithfully, or questioning his very existence, there's a place for you here."
The non-religious religious experience that CCC serves up features, at least on Sundays, a seven-piece Christian pop-rock-country band. The drummer and his kit are encased in Plexiglass. If you enjoy singing, and are any good at it, the words of such classics as "I am Washed in the Blood of the Lamb" are displayed on huge HD screens, so you can sing with your face uplifted instead of buried in a hymnal. The harmonies are arranged to permit you to belt at the absolute pinnacle of your vocal range.
"For me music is really important," one current CCC member told Scene. "And they have amazing music every Sunday. The children's ministry is also really strong – kids love it there – and pretty quickly, I found my niche in a small group that became kind of like a family."
Another current member said CCC was akin to a university setting in that you don't experience the most intimate fellowship at Sunday worship, where there's generally 1,000 or more people in attendance. It's the small group gatherings, the bible studies and so forth, where you can really find like-minded people. There are communities of youth, young professional singles, young professional married couples, middle-aged divorcees, etc.
"But it's really like The Truman Show," the CCC member said, "in that it has this perfectness about it. Some of that is good, but some of that makes it go towards more cult-like characteristics. Because everyone wants to stay in that perfect environment. Because it seems like basically the perfect church."
Cari Gintz arrived in Northeast Ohio ten years ago, and what drew her to CCC, she told Scene, was Pastor Joe Coffey. She described him as the "spitting image" of her father. Gintz was gay at the time – she says she has been "healed" from homosexuality – and because of a memoir she wrote about her struggles with sexual identity, she became something of a celebrity at CCC, a "poster child." She had developed a close relationship with Coffey and reached out to him in November, 2018 after she was sent information about the Sankey case by the local advocates.
"I wrote directly to Joe," she told Scene. "I said, Joe, I think you really need to listen to this [the 2014 interview with Miriam Bongolan and a victim]. I think these girls are telling the truth. No one would make this up. Something doesn't feel right... Then Joe popped a cork."
"This is absolutely NOT true," Coffey responded in an email. "Joe Mauk seems like he is increasing his efforts to smear Tom and CCC. It's crazy. Social media is so dangerous and evil at times. Anyone can say anything. The case was investigated for four years by the child services and the government authorities of the Philippines. All charges were dropped. Tom was never charged with anything. Joe Mauk, who triggered the raid, has lost all credibility in the Philippines and is desperate to try to exonerate his actions."
Their exchange continued through November, with Coffey getting increasingly exercised. He claimed that the church had hired a "group of trained professionals" to conduct an investigation; he claimed that CCC did nothing to help Toto and Jake "except to provide legal counsel for them"; he claimed that he had spent "hundreds of hours" personally reviewing the case; and he delved into financial details meant to implicate Joe Mauk, (details that Mauk contended were misrepresented). In general, Coffey's tone was one of incredulity: How could Gintz believe these lies without consulting primary sources and speaking to Tom and Karen directly?
"You of all people should know that Satan is most effective when he weaves some truth with some lie," he wrote in a lengthy email on Nov. 18, unwittingly echoing comments that local advocates had made about Tom. "You are reading partial truth and partly lie and you are willing to believe it. Do not go deeper into this terribly dangerous mixture without talking to Tom and Karen."
When the advocates did meet with Tom and Karen, it ended poorly, without the biblical reconciliation that all had hoped for (see above). Gintz sent a follow-up email to Coffey and founding pastor Jim Colledge describing her disappointment – "the past five weeks have been nothing short of horrifying and disturbing," she wrote, reiterating many of her concerns about CCC's handling of the abuse allegations. Why had the church bent over backwards to pay for the defense of Toto and Jake but not paid a dime for the legal representation of the orphans? If the church had nothing to hide, why were they so resistant to a third-party investigation?
This was no way to address her spiritual leaders, she was told. She was instructed to stop contacting Tom Randall – an about-face from Coffey's earlier directives – and was invited by Colledge to a meeting with the elders where they could address her understanding of the church covenant she signed.
The church elders, Colledge clarified when Gintz sought more details about this meeting, had no interest in discussing anything related to Sankey, World Harvest Ministries or Tom Randall. They were concerned about her.
"Your demonstration of mistrust and disrespect for the spiritual leadership of Christ Community Chapel is astounding," Colledge wrote. "For some reason, unbeknownst to me, you have determined that you have authority to discern the spiritual health of the local church. This is a dangerous position for anyone to assume."
This behavior from CCC leadership is what Dee Parsons referred to in her coverage as "spiritual abuse." Gintz told Scene that she'd had enough. This spring, she left CCC. "There just came a point where I said, 'Why am I here? I hate this.'"
She has nevertheless continued to spread the word about JusticeforSankey.com, a site that the local advocates have created to publicize the issue and provide a home base for much of the documentation surrounding the case. Gintz disagrees with the Justice for Sankey advocates on one important point: She is convinced that the internal review by Suzanne Lewis-Johnson could be a positive and productive thing.
"This is a former FBI agent, a woman of tremendous integrity," Gintz said. "And she's no dummy. I think to myself, what if she tells the truth? The impact of having an internal review that goes against the CCC story would blow this thing to the heavens. That's what I'm praying for."
Priscilla Leighton told Scene that the members of CCC may be going through what her family went through back in 2014, where they were stupefied that Tom Randall — "You know, Jesus Christ incarnate," — could be so blind, convinced that if he just learned one more crucial detail or just saw one more important document, he would see the truth.
"And then you realize something," she said. "Abuse only gets that far when the people on top already know the truth. They've known it all along."