Preying on the Congregation

Pastor Stedroy Williams' house of worship has become a house divided as some members insist he sexually harassed women

Telephoned at his home, Williams was again angry. Asked about the numerous allegations made against him, including those regarding the teenage girl, he said, "What?! I know nothing of these allegations. This is getting sickening."

When he was asked why anyone would make up such stories, Williams said, "This is a cruel world."

The next day he telephoned the female reporter, and his tone was radically different.

A month after gracing the cover of The Gospel Truth newspaper, Williams nearly lost his church
A month after gracing the cover of The Gospel Truth newspaper, Williams nearly lost his church

"I had a dream about you last night," he said melodiously. "God spoke to me last night. I saw you singing. You have a very beautiful voice. You need to take your talents and use them for God.

"I'm very influential in the community," he added. "Have you been listening to my radio show?"

When Letitia McPherson and Edina Bayne returned to their church in Montreal last December, they thought they'd heard the last of Stedroy Williams. They were wrong.

The week before the two women had traveled to South Florida, Williams served as visiting minister at their church. He'd been recommended by a pastor from another church, and Restoration Ministries paid the expenses for the ten-day trip, which included a stay at the posh Ruby Foo's Hotel in Montreal.

The day after she returned to Restoration Ministries, McPherson received a phone call from a distraught parishioner named Carleen Gardener. The 26-year-old married woman said Williams had sexually harassed her during his visit. Gardener later told New Times she had turned to Williams for help with a personal problem. He offered to talk with her that evening, she recalled, but said she would have to pick him up at his hotel because he didn't want to pay for a cab.

When she arrived at Williams' room, Gardener said, he asked her to wait a couple minutes while he brushed his teeth. Leaving the bathroom he sat down on one twin bed and Gardener sat on another. He got up to give her a hug, she recalled, and then put his hand on her breast. "You want this, I can tell," he allegedly told Gardener, adding that he hadn't had sex in three weeks.

Williams then apologized, according to Gardener, saying, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, the devil is trying to get the best of me."

A week later, while the Montreal ministers were in Lauderhill, Williams called Gardener's house and urged her not to tell her pastor about what he had done, Gardener said. He claimed it would destroy both his ministry and her pastor's, she added. At that point Gardener was having trouble sleeping and she frequently cried, so she sought a therapist. Later her therapist, her pastor, and her husband urged Gardener to go to the police. On January 27 she filed a sexual-assault complaint against Williams with the Montreal police department.

After reviewing statements made by Gardener, the attorney general will decide whether or not to question Williams, according to Montreal police officer Christian Emond. The penalty for sexual assault varies, he says, depending on the severity of the attack. As late as last week, Emond could not say when a decision would be made.

Gardener, it appears, is not the only Canadian complaining about Williams. Maureen Mitchell, another parishioner at Restoration Ministries, says he made several inappropriate gestures, in the church office and at a restaurant with other parishioners present. He invited her to his hotel room, repeatedly asked for her phone number, and once grabbed her by the back of the neck, she claims.

Since Mitchell, age 28, joined Restoration Ministries, many outside ministers have visited the church and not one has acted "overly friendly" like Williams, she says. After hearing about Gardener's alleged difficulties, Mitchell was relieved she did not go to Williams' hotel room. "She's a new Christian, and she didn't know any better," she says of Gardener. "I wish I could grab that man by the throat."

While Montreal police are still investigating allegations made against Williams, Lauderhill police have closed their case involving Ricky's nine-year-old daughter. Spokesperson Lucy Crockett says charges weren't filed against Williams because the incident allegedly took place six to nine months before it was reported, and therefore no physical evidence exists. "It's a case of it's her word against his word," she says. "However, we have offered counseling to the girl through our victim advocate."

Nicewander, the assistant state attorney, says that prosecuting a relatively old case of sexual child abuse is a thorny issue. "We get cases presented to us by police departments all the time," he adds. "They're called 'not in custody' cases, where the police don't have corroboration, and they don't believe they have probable cause but want us to look over the case."

Ricky's daughter's case would fall into that category. According to the Lauderhill police report, Williams was baby-sitting the girl at the time of the alleged incident. He brought her to Grace Christian World Church with him to let someone in. She said he took her into the back office and started touching her rear end, then pressed up against her and gyrated his hips. On the drive back, she said, Williams pulled into a parking lot and asked if he could touch her breasts. She said she told him yes because "Stedroy is her pastor and she was afraid to say no to him," according to the police report.

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