The former New Jersey pastor who co-founded the popular Creation Festival was sentenced Friday to 18 years in prison over charges of child sexual abuse.
Harry Thomas, 75, formerly pastored Come Alive New Testament Church in Medford Township, New Jersey, and was the co-founder of what is billed as the largest Christian music festival in the United States, according to The Associated Press.
The ex-minister’s prison sentence came after he tried unsuccessfully to withdraw his guilty plea. He was ultimately sentenced for his sexual abuses against five young girls.
Earlier this year, as part of a plea agreement, Thomas admitted to sexually assaulting a 9-year-old girl in 2005, having sexual relations with three girls between the ages of seven and nine in 2000 and 2010 and exposing his genitals to an underage girl between 2008 and 2010.
Thomas said in a statement Friday he is “very sorry” for the pain his actions caused.
“I agree with the scriptures. It would be better for a millstone to be hung around my neck and be cast into the sea,” Thomas said, referring to Mark 9:42. “That’s what I deserve.”
The father of one of Thomas’ victims, The Courier-Post reported, described him as “a ravenous wolf,” adding, “He is one of the greatest hypocrites — a child molester masquerading as a pastor.”
Assistant Burlington County Prosecutor Stephen Eife called Thomas “the devil incarnate,” while an attorney representing the victims, Craig Hubert, issued a heartrending and sobering statement of his own about Thomas’ “horrific” actions.
“Harry Thomas failed,” he said. “He failed himself, he failed his family, he failed his community, which includes his church … and he failed his God.”
Hubert added, “One has to be reminded that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace.”
Thomas’ lawyer, Robin Lord, argued for a 15-year sentence rather than the maximum 20-year term sought by prosecutors, citing the former pastor’s age and numerous health issues, which she argued would render the longer term a death sentence.
Lord then suggested Thomas was not entirely responsible for his abusive actions, claiming they were the result of an uncontrollable “compulsion,” akin to a disease, rather than a choice.
Thomas was arrested in December 2017, not long after one of the girls came forward to tell her mother about what Thomas had done to her. The victim’s father said, “In one day, our entire lives were turned upside down.”
The Creation Festival co-founder pleaded guilty in February to raping one girl and sexually assaulting three others between 1999 and 2015, according to The Post-Courier.
Eife said Thomas repeatedly targeted and assaulted girls between the ages of five and 12, at “a time when little girls should be playing with dolls.”
“What fools we all were,” the aunt of one of the victims said. “You used the fact that these kids loved you. You groomed them all and us, too.”
For his part, Thomas, speaking through tears, said Friday, “I don’t understand why I did these things. I would never hurt them but I did.”