Conflicting reports arise over pastor's 1995 sex offense conviction

PERKINS TWP. Bishop Clifton T. Jones Sr. has been leading Agape Love Ministries for 10 years, and several congregation member
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

PERKINS TWP.

Bishop Clifton T. Jones Sr. has been leading Agape Love Ministries for 10 years, and several congregation members say they have no worries about his past.

But conflicting stories surrounding the details of Jones' 1995 arrest arose after he sent a one-page letter to the congregation in August.

In the letter Jones stated he was charged "because alcohol was found in the vehicle." However, alcohol is not a factor in the offense for which he was convicted -- attempted corruption of a minor -- which is classified as a sex offense.

In the incident, a 15-year-old girl told police she had consensual oral sex with the then-39-year-old pastor in a Norwalk hotel room, according to the police report.

Jones further stated in the letter he was required to report under law, "not because of any conviction for sexual misconduct."

Ohio law states: "No person who is eighteen years of age or older shall engage in sexual conduct with a minor."

While Jones was originally charged with corruption of a minor, he pleaded guilty to the amended charge, according to Huron County Common Pleas Court records.

On Friday, Jones' attorney filed a motion to withdraw his plea on the 1996 conviction, requesting a trial by jury.

Amending the charge was a standard procedure, according to Huron County Prosecutor Russell Leffler, who handled the case.

"It does not mean he didn't do it," Leffler said.

Police learned of the incident when the victim admitted herself to the hospital after the encounter.

She told police she was walking south on U.S. 250 when Jones stopped, offered a ride and asked her "if she liked to party," according to the police report.

Jones, then a pastor at Victory Church, took the girl to a hotel and gave her alcohol, and then the sexual activity took place, the victim told police. The juvenile could not "remember taking her pants off" and added that she did not know if she passed out or not during that time, the report said.

A hotel clerk confirmed Jones checked out the room for two people an hour before the incident was reported. A short time later police found Jones driving south on U.S. 250. Officers pursued Jones in a high-speed chase until he was stopped by a Greenwich police officer and held at gunpoint until other officers arrived, the report said.

Jones told police there "was nothing sexual at all" between the two, and said he was only taking the girl home to New London. Jones admitted to police he provided the girl with alcohol and added the girl said "she would not tell" anyone she was in the room with him, the report said.

"What happened 12 years ago happened 12 years ago," Jones said. "Our church is trying to move on."

Jones said he told the congregation the name of his charge, and that he did not have sexual conduct with a minor, but would not comment further on the incident.

"The congregation is aware of it," he said. "I'm a lot smarter and a lot wiser."

Jones deferred all other comment to his attorney, Gaye Harris-Miles.

"He will not by any means address this matter by trial through the newspaper," Harris-Miles said.

The victim could not be located for comment.

Rosa Towns, a congregation member for five years, said she is aware Jones has a criminal history, but did not comment on any specifics of his past.

"I'm more concerned about what he's doing now. I don't think he's hiding anything," she said. "It doesn't bother me at all, because I don't know anybody that hasn't done something."

Jones was ordained in 1985 and founded Agape Love Ministries in 1997, according to the congregation Web site.

A sexual predator screening report conducted on Jones around the time of his conviction indicated he had prior sex-related charges for soliciting prostitution in 1985 and for public indecency in 1988, according to court records.

Hashing out the law

* The Ohio statute was revised in July 1996. The charge corruption of a minor was changed to unlawful sexual conduct with a minor.

"The same offense, different name," said Huron County Prosecutor Russell Leffler.

The description of the offense remains worded exactly the same, but the new law did add to the stipulations for felony classification. It now defines the degree of the offense depending on the age of the offender and victim.

Corruption of a minor pertains to a situation where the offender is 18 or older and the victim is between ages 13 and 16.

Information on county and state sex offender Web sites cannot reflect the old law's name word for word because of the way the computer system is set up, according to Capt. Steven Westcott of the Erie County Sheriff's office.

Instead of listing the current Ohio revised code section -- unlawful sexual conduct with a minor -- to prevent inaccuracy, Jones has been listed as a sexually oriented offender and labeled as "Non Sex Other Offense."