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Toledo pastor charged with sex trafficking minors pleads guilty

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    U.S. marshals escort Pastor Kenneth Butler to the car after his appearance in U.S. District Court on October 5, 2017.

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    The Kingdom Encounter Family Worship Center is reportedly housed in the building. The church is run by Kenneth Butler, who has been charged with sex trafficking of a minor.

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One of three Toledo area pastors caught up in an alleged child sex trafficking scheme admitted in court Monday that he had sex with two minor girls, even at times at his friend's church office.

Kenneth Butler, 38, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to conspiracy to sex traffic children, obstruction of a sex trafficking investigation, and two counts of sex trafficking of children.

Although three of the charges carry maximum possible sentences of life in prison, Butler is to be sentenced to 17½ years in prison as part of a plea agreement. Judge Jack Zouhary scheduled sentencing for Sept. 12.

“This defendant has admitted to crimes that include preying on a foster child who was previously the victim of sexual abuse, and he committed these crimes in a house of worship,” U.S. Attorney Justin E. Herdman said in a news release. “Butler may hold himself out to the community as a pastor, but in the eyes of the law he is a criminal who pays money to sexually assault children.”

RELATED: 3rd Toledo pastor charged with sex trafficking minors | Toledo pastor accused in sex trafficking case waives detention hearing

Butler, who was pastor of Detroit-based Kingdom Encounter Family Worship Center, was indicted on the charges last November — more than six months after federal agents arrested the Rev. Cordell Jenkins, 47, pastor and founder of Abundant Life Ministries in Toledo, and the Rev. Anthony Haynes, 39, who led the Greater Life Christian Center in Toledo.

Michael Freeman, an assistant U.S. attorney, laid out the facts of the case against Butler, which he said began after Butler started attending Mr. Haynes' church. In 2015, Mr. Haynes told him that a minor girl who allegedly had been sexually abused by family members was living at Mr. Haynes' home.

Mr. Freeman said Mr. Haynes and Butler both had sex with the girl at Mr. Haynes' office at Greater Life Christian Center. After Mr. Haynes closed that church in 2016, he opened a new church at the University Bible Fellowship location and again invited Butler there to have sex with the victim.

One time he gave the girl $30 to have her hair styled after they had sex, Mr. Freeman said.

“Haynes told Butler that Cordell Jenkins also was having sex with Juvenile #1,” Mr. Freeman said. “Butler knew Jenkins as another pastor in the Toledo area. Butler went to Jenkins’ church on a few occasions when Haynes was a guest preacher. Likewise, Jenkins was a guest preacher at Haynes’s church.”

Butler later had sex with a second minor girl who attended Greater Life and on one occasion gave her $20 after they had sex in his car driving back to Toledo from his church in Detroit, Mr. Freeman said. The girl routinely watched Butler's children during services at his church in Detroit, Mr. Freeman said.

When he learned there was a federal investigation into the matter in March, 2017, Butler deleted text messages with the first victim on his phone. Mr. Freeman said that in October, Butler told the second victim “to lie to federal authorities when asked about their sex.”

Judge Zouhary repeatedly asked Butler if he disagreed with any of the statements Mr. Freeman was making, and Butler replied, “No, not at this time.”

The judge told him that now was the time to raise any disagreements.

“I need to let you know that this agreement becomes effective today,” Judge Zouhary said. “There is no later time. Now is the time.”

Butler replied that he understood and that he did not disagree with any of it.

Earlier in the hearing, Butler told the judge he was born in Detroit and dropped out of school in 11th grade because of “pressure” and “poor decisions.” He outlined a variety of jobs he held in Detroit and Toledo in factories, at restaurants, and as a security guard.

He said he pastored a church in Detroit from 2007 to 2012, though he wasn't paid. He later was the unpaid pastor at Kingdom Encounter  for two years.

Butler said he moved to Toledo in 2013 “just to kind of get away and start fresh but still be close” to Detroit. Married, he said he was living with his wife, three children and two stepchildren when he was arrested last fall.

Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Haynes are being held in jail awaiting trial, which has been tentatively set for Sept. 4. A pretrial hearing and change-of-plea deadline for Mr. Jenkins, Mr. Haynes, and Mr. Jenkins' wife and former Lucas County Administrator Laura Lloyd-Jenkins is scheduled for July 19.

Ms. Lloyd-Jenkins was indicted in December on charges alleging she interfered with the child-sex trafficking investigation and made a false statement to investigators. Free on bond, she was fired by Lucas County Commissioners last November.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.

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