BRADENTON, Florida - He built entire religious communities in Florida, Minnesota, New York, and Illinois. But a lawsuit that alleges sex abuse on a young girl threatens to tear that world down.
A lawsuit filed in federal court on Wednesday accuses Gerald Derstine, 81, of touching a girl inappropriately from 2007-2009. Now 14, the girl identified as "Jane Doe" in the lawsuit was between the ages of 11 and 13 when the abuse allegedly took place.
Derstine founded the Christian Retreat Family Church community in Bradenton and opened up other retreats across the country. The lawsuit was filed in Minnesota, where he often spends his summers at the Strawberry Lake Christian Retreat.
Patrick Noaker, attorney for Jane Doe's family, called Derstine "a very powerful predator," who already admitted his guilt and begged for forgiveness from the victim's family. He cited a phone call and letter they received while Minnesota authorities looked into allegations of abuse last year.
But no criminal charges were ever filed.
Noaker said the family is filing the civil suit to "protect children at that camp" since the State Attorney didn't file suit.
Derstine told the Star Tribune on Tuesday - before he knew about the lawsuit - that the allegations were false and stem from the family wanting money from him after the girl's mother was fired from the camp last year.
"This issue came up last year," Derstine told the paper, adding that he - and his computer - were already investigated and cleared in the criminal case.
Derstine said he spent many years counseling the girl because of "her fear of men. At age 3, she saw her [birth] father beat up on her mother."
But on Wednesday, Noaker said the phone call and letter they have as evidence will help win their lawsuit.
"The case against Rev. Gerstine is very strong," Noaker said. "His claims that this never happened are not true.
Follow 10 Connects reporter Noah Pransky on Twitter at www.twitter.com/noahpransky or Facebook at www.facebook.com/noahpransky.