By Bob Allen
A Texas Baptist youth minister faces a federal charge of attempted enticement of a minor after he exchanged sexual e-mail and text messages with an undercover police officer posing as a 15-year-old girl.
Trevor Jacob Fortner, 25, made his first appearance in federal court in Lubbock, Texas, on Friday May 10, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Nancy M. Koenig.
Fortner recently began as youth minister at Fifth Street Baptist Church in Levelland, Texas, a congregation affiliated with the Baptist Missionary Association of Texas. He also worked in publications and graphics for First Baptist Church in Lubbock, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention and Baptist General Convention of Texas.
First Baptist Senior Pastor Bobby Dagnel released a statement to media describing Fortner as a clerical employee who had no contact or involvement with the church’s student ministries. Dagnel described his initial reaction to news of the arrest as “shock and dismay” before turning to thoughts and prayers for the families involved.
“At a time like this, the question of employee background checks inevitably arises,” Dagnel said. “First Baptist Church conducts criminal background checks on all employees — ministerial, professional and clerical, and also all volunteers working with minors.”
An arrest affidavit quoted by the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal stated: “Due to his position as a minister, and the trust that is generally afforded such individuals in the community, investigators believe that it is likely that Fortner is in contact with minors on a regular basis.”
During the e-mail conversation, the suspect reportedly asked, “If we were to do something, you wouldn’t try to get me in trouble for anything would you?”
“I won’t get you in trouble, but my rep and stuff is more on the line,” he also said. “I could be labeled as a sex offender and put in jail and what not. I just want to make sure.”
The case against Fortner is part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat sexual exploitation and abuse. It is a joint investigation by the FBI and Lubbock police.
According to a press release from the North Texas district of the U.S. States Attorney’s Office, the maximum penalty for the offense as charged is life in federal prison, a $250,000 fine and a lifetime of supervised release.
Fortner remains in custody of the Lubbock County Sheriff’s Office pending a detention hearing, which would include any request for bail, scheduled for Wednesday, May 15.