The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports…
“Geronimo Aguilar, the former pastor of the Richmond Outreach Center, was sentenced Tuesday to 40 years in prison for sexually assaulting a teenager in Texas.
Aguilar, 45, who has been in jail since his conviction in June, faced a life sentence on two counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child — a girl who was 13 when he started having sex with her in October 1996.
Aguilar was not convicted of sexually assaulting the girl’s younger sister, as was previously reported. An aggravated sexual assault charge is still pending in that case, prosecutors said.
He was also convicted of three counts of sexual assault of a child under 17 and two counts of indecency with a child, each second-degree felonies, each carrying maximum sentences of 20 years.
State District Judge Louis Sturns gave Aguilar credit for time served and ruled that the sentences from the seven counts will run concurrently. Aguilar will have to serve at least half of the 40-year sentence before he becomes eligible for parole, said prosecutor Elizabeth Kamber.
Before pronouncing sentence, Sturns heard 1½ days of testimony from people who have known Aguilar.
Witnesses called by Aguilar’s attorneys Tuesday said they did not recognize the man who seduced, coerced and sexually abused teenage and preteen girls and married women who were members of his churches. The defense witnesses said they knew a minister who clothed the naked, fed the hungry and housed the homeless.
Aguilar grew up in a troubled family, relatives said. Faye Zucker, his mother’s cousin, testified that Aguilar was 8 or 9 when his stepfather fatally shot his mother in the head five times.
Years later, when Aguilar met his biological father, Phil Aguilar, who founded a motorcycle-themed church in California called Set Free Ministries, their relationship had problems, his uncle, Mel Aguilar, testified.
“My nephew needed a better representative. His dad didn’t dad him,” Mel Aguilar said, looking directly at Aguilar’s father, who was sitting in the gallery. “Your father should have helped you. You should have been there.”
Mel Aguilar told Sturns that his nephew needed restoration, that he understood the gravity of the crimes he had committed and that he could still do good for the community. After visiting Geronimo Aguilar in jail, Mel Aguilar said, he met men who credited his nephew with changing their lives and bringing them to Christ.
After leaving Fort Worth in 2003, Aguilar and his wife moved to Richmond, where he started the Richmond Outreach Center in a warehouse with only a few members, Mel Aguilar said.
Under Aguilar’s guidance, the church on Midlothian Turnpike in South Richmond grew to include half a dozen nonprofits including a real estate foundation, café, thrift store, fitness center, child care center, clothing line and a tutoring company in Florida, according to its 2011 tax filing.
One of the sisters at the center of the case testified in June that she grew up with Aguilar in communal homes owned by the Set Free Church in Anaheim, Calif.
Geronimo Aguilar married his wife, Samantha, there in 1995 when she was 17. They soon moved to Fort Worth to the New Beginnings International Church, where he was music minister, according to testimony. The family of the two sisters followed the Aguilars to Fort Worth.
In December 2007, the older sister, then 30, told authorities in Anaheim and Fort Worth that Aguilar had repeatedly sexually assaulted her, beginning in October 1996 when she was 13 and continuing until she was nearly 15.
The younger sister told police that she had sex with Aguilar beginning when she was 11.
On Monday, the sisters testified that their lives have been in shambles since they became involved with Aguilar while living in the house with him and their parents.
“It’s ruined so many relationships in my life,” the younger sister testified. “He was part of my family and they loved him, and when that happened I felt like they hated me. It’s like I ruined their big dreams of being a part of a ministry like Set Free.
“My sister and I hated each other. We went years without talking to each other as adults. It created this competition between us.”