GREENVILLE, S.C. – A 70-year-old Christian church bishop who once received the state's highest award for community service has been charged with having sex with a minor more than 30 years ago.
Johnnie M. Smith (search) was charged Friday with carnal knowledge of a child in April 1973, a count that doesn't have a statute of limitations. An arrest warrant alleges Smith had sex with a girl who was younger than 14 when she sought consultation from him.
Smith denied the allegations after he was released from jail Friday on $10,000 bond.
"When you serve God, you're going to have all sorts of tests and trials and the enemy doesn't like the good that you do," said Smith, who became the first black person to serve on the Greenville County Council in 1976.
Police Lt. Mike Gambrell said the investigation began in January after a 42-year-old woman told investigators that as a young girl she went to her pastor to talk about difficulties in her life and had sex with him. The woman came forward after talking to a counselor, Gambrell said. "She needed resolution," he said.
Prosecutor Bob Ariail (search) said despite the lack of physical evidence, he is confident in his decision to charge Smith.
Smith founded the Evangelistic Temple (search) in 1962 and has a lengthy record of community service. In 1997, he received the Order of the Palmetto (search) award, the highest service award the Governor's Office gives state citizens.
Paul Guy, president of the NAACP's (search) Greenville chapter, said he was shocked by the charges because Smith has done so much for the community.
Smith moved to Greenville in 1960 and has played a role in reshaping the city. He has served on various local, state and national boards, including the Black Council for Progress (search) and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.