By Bob Allen
A Southern Baptist pastor in South Dakota is being held by federal marshals in a county jail after he allegedly fell for a police sting operation by negotiating a deal with an undercover officer posing as a pimp to have sex with a 15-year-old girl.
Joseph Raleigh, 34, pastor of First Baptist Church in Miller, S.D., since June 2013, was indicted Oct. 20 by a federal grand jury on charges of attempted commercial sex trafficking of a child and attempted enticement of a minor using the Internet.
If convicted, Raleigh would face a mandatory minimum of 10 years in custody and up to a maximum of life in prison. He pleaded not guilty Oct. 21 in federal court and reportedly has resigned as pastor of the Miller First Baptist Church.
The U.S. State Attorney’s Office in South Dakota alleges that Raleigh used the Internet to “knowingly solicit a child to engage in a commercial sex act.”
The investigation is being conducted by the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation, U.S. Marshals Service, South Dakota Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and the Pierre Police Department.
The Capital Journal in Pierre, S.D., quoted Jason Jarens, an agent with the state’s Department of Criminal Investigation, who said he posed as a pimp trying to collect money to introduce the pastor to a 15-year-old girl.
After negotiations on the Internet, Raleigh allegedly met Jarens, who was carrying $300 cash, the amount he agreed to pay for “30 to 40 minutes” with the putative minor.
Before moving to South Dakota, Raleigh served as pastor of Hysham Baptist Church in Hysham, Mont., a small town between Miles City and Billings on Interstate 94.
Raleigh, who is married with four children, is originally from Ohio, where he was ordained to the ministry in 2007. He is a graduate of Luther Rice College and Seminary in Lithonia, Ga.
In addition to prison, Raleigh faces possible fines up to $250,000, supervised release of not less than five years and up to life, and a $5,000 assessment to the Domestic Trafficking Fund. Restitution may also be ordered.
A trial date has not been scheduled.
Raleigh’s name is listed in directories of “Founders Friendly” churches by Founders Ministries and “Pastors/Elders” by Reformation Montana, two groups promoting Calvinism under the umbrella of a movement nicknamed “young, restless and reformed.”