Former NH pastor denies cover-up of rape allegations, blames police for delay in arrest

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A pastor accused of sending a pregnant 15-year-old girl out of New Hampshire to hide her alleged rape by a fellow church member 13 years ago said Friday that police officers failed to do their job after he reported the accusations.

Chuck Phelps, the former pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Concord, is blaming police for the delay in the arrest of Ernest Willis, 51, of Gilford, who was charged last week with sexual assault. Police have said their 1997 investigation was shelved because they could not locate the victim, and they are now investigating how much church leaders knew about the allegations.

The case was reopened this year after online posts and friends led police to Tina Anderson, now 28 and living in Arizona.

The Associated Press does not generally identify victims of sexual assault, but Anderson asked that her name be made public. She said church officials forced her to stand before the congregation and apologize for getting pregnant before shipping her off to Colorado, where she lived with another pastor and gave her baby up for adoption.

Phelps said he reported the rape allegations to police and child welfare officials within a day of hearing about them from Anderson 13 years ago and did nothing to conceal her whereabouts. He said he also told Willis he was calling the police and advised him to turn himself in.

"I never once got a call from the Concord police. ... They simply didn't do anything. This is unconscionable, what's happening to the Church here and to my reputation," Phelps, now a pastor in Indianapolis, said Thursday.

Police declined to comment Friday because of the ongoing investigation.

Phelps said Anderson's mother made the decision to move her to Colorado, while his role consisted of helping to find a family for her to live with.

Messages left for Willis at phone numbers linked to him have not been returned, and Anderson's mother, Christine Leaf, has refused to comment on whether she consented to the move.

Willis has been released on personal recognizance bail after his arrest and is due in court June 16.