Third lawsuit filed against Atlanta pastor Eddie Long
A third lawsuit has been filed against Atlanta-based megachurch pastor Eddie Long, alleging coercion, deception and manipulation that involved a sexual relationship with a young male, CNN has learned.
Through a spokesman earlier on Tuesday, Long denied similar allegations in two other lawsuits filed over the past two days.
"We categorically deny the allegations," he said. "It is very unfortunate that someone has taken this course of action. Our law firm will be able to respond once attorneys have had an opportunity to review the lawsuit."
Attorney: Atlanta pastor groomed young men for sex.
Atlanta, Georgia (CNN) -- Another civil suit has been filed against Atlanta-based megachurch pastor Eddie Long, alleging coercion, negligence and fraud that involved a sexual relationship with a third young male, CNN has learned.
Through a spokesman, Long on Tuesday denied similar allegations in two other lawsuits by two men.
Long will hold a news conference Thursday morning, spokesman Art Franklin said.
Wednesday's lawsuit, filed in DeKalb County, Georgia, State Court, was brought on behalf of Jamal Parris, now 23, who was a teenager at the time of the allegations.
The suit also names the church as a defendant. CNN is trying to reach Long's spokesman for comment.
Allegations that Long coerced two young male church members and employees into sex are "a case of retaliation and a shakedown for money by men with some serious credibility issues," the pastor's spokesman told CNN on Wednesday.
Pastor Eddie Long "categorically and adamantly denies these allegations," spokesman Art Franklin said. "There's been a lot of chatter since yesterday, but these complaints that have been filed are definitely without merit."
The lawsuits filed Tuesday in DeKalb County allege that Long used his position as a spiritual authority and bishop to coerce young male members and employees of his New Birth Missionary Baptist Church into sex. CNN was the first to report on the lawsuits.
"Defendant Long has a pattern and practice of singling out a select group of young male church members and using his authority as Bishop over them to ultimately bring them to a point of engaging in a sexual relationship," the suits allege.
Long is considered one of the nation's top African-American preachers. His church has more 25,000 members, according to the suit, and was the site of Coretta Scott King's 2006 funeral, attended by then-President George W. Bush and three
former presidents. King was the widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
One of the men, Anthony Flagg, 21, alleges in his suit that Long took him on overnight trips to a half-dozen American cities in recent years.
"Long shared a bedroom and engaged in intimate sexual contact with plaintiff Flagg including kissing, massaging, masturbating of plaintiff Flagg by defendant Long and oral sexual contact," the suit says.
The other man, Maurice Murray Robinson, 20, claims Long took him to Auckland, New Zealand, in October 2008 for his 19th birthday and engaged in oral sex with him, Robinson's suit alleges.
"Following the New Zealand trip, defendant Long regularly engaged in sexual touching, and other sexual acts with plaintiff Robinson," Robinson's suit alleges.
Attorney B.J. Bernstein, who represents both Flagg and Robinson, said Wednesday that the youths' accounts are "really strong."
She said she has worked with sexual abuse victims and finds the two believable because of "the emotion. The intensity. The very strong description of what sexual acts occurred. ... This is not just someone giving a vague thing, 'Oh, yeah, one time he did this,' or a couple of times."
But Franklin told CNN's "American Morning" on Wednesday that the two men "are not innocent victims" and that they have known "the wrong side of the law" before, including being charged with breaking into Long's office in June to steal items, such as jewelry, that could be sold for cash.
"Let your viewers be the judge of their actions," Franklin said.
In June, Robinson was arrested and charged with burglary in connection with a break-in at Long's office. An iPhone, iPad and other items -- more than $1,300 worth -- were taken from the office, according to the police report. Bernstein said Wednesday that about $100,000 worth of items were taken, including black diamonds.
On Tuesday, Bernstein said the theft was Robinson's attempt to retaliate against the pastor. She said that once Robinson began telling others about his experience with Long, "he realized he wasn't the only one."
"It made [Robinson] angry," she said.
She said Wednesday that Robinson's anger also stemmed from a May incident in which he sought comfort and solace from Long and instead was the target of a sexual advance. That "created a frenzy inside him," she said.
Franklin told CNN's John Roberts, "This is actually, John, a case of retaliation and a shakedown for money by men with some serious credibility issues trying to mount their own defense. This is something that went from 48 hours of contact with the attorney flinging outrageous demands to this dog-and-pony show we are seeing."
Asked about the relationship between Long and the young men, Franklin said that both were part of the LongFellows program at the church.
The suit describes Long's LongFellows Youth Academy as an offshoot of New Birth. According to its website, the group's vision is to "love, live and lead. We successfully meet the demanding needs of young men through a vigorous Rites of Passage Curriculum that helps young men realize their hidden potential and discover their masculine heart."
Franklin said that both Robinson and Flagg were among many young people employed by the church. Asked whether they ever traveled with Long, he said a number of people travel with him.
On whether the two youths ever shared a room with Long, Franklin said, "That is one of the allegations that we learned through the media that's being made by the attorneys and something our defense team will have to respond to.
"We have not even seen the lawsuit ourselves," he said. "That's something our attorneys will have to go through."
On the reaction from Long's congregation, Franklin said, "Last night, it was a very spirit-filled worship service from a church family that loves its spiritual leader very much." He said Long is drawing strength from his family, the New Birth family and other supporters.
"Before rushing to any judgment on Bishop Long and this court of public opinion taking place right now, I really do hope you will look at these guys that are throwing the mud and consider the source," he said.
Asked how she can prove that sexual contact took place, Bernstein said, "I am ready to put them under oath. Bishop Long can spend money on the best attorneys in this world, and they can question those young men, and then I'll get to question the bishop, and then we'll really see what's going on."
She said she will subpoena records of an "excessive number of phone calls" between Long and the young men, along with e-mails, credit card receipts and other items. Bernstein said she had alerted federal authorities about the situation.
Long frequently denounces homosexual behavior. A 2007 article in the Southern Poverty Law Center's magazine called him "one of the most virulently homophobic black leaders in the religiously based anti-gay movement."
Both plaintiffs said the pastor, his church and church employees gave them cash and lavish gifts that ranged from cars to college tuition.
The suits also said that Long framed the sexual relationships as religious in nature.
"They were groomed for it, from 14 to 17 years old," Bernstein said Wednesday. "He gets to know them and gets the trust, and then bit by bit -- first it's a hug. It's just like any sexual predator. Or we're sitting watching the football game, and you put your legs up on their lap ... One of the boys described going to the gym, 'Can you massage my neck?' and then there's another massage, and it just slowly breaks down. Ask any victim of sexual abuse. It is a progression."
The suits allege that Long chose the plaintiffs to be his "Spiritual Sons," a program that allegedly includes other young men from the church.
"Spiritual Sons are taken on public and private jets to U.S. and international destinations, housed in luxury hotels and given access to numerous celebrities including entertainment stars and politicians," the suit alleges.
Flagg moved into a home owned by another New Birth pastor when he was a high school junior, according to the suit, where Long would sometimes share a bed with him. Flagg was eventually put on the church's payroll, his suit alleges, with Long personally delivering his checks.
Flagg's suit says that Long presided over a spiritual "covenant" ceremony between the two of them.
"It was essentially a marriage ceremony, with candles, exchange of jewelry and biblical quotes," Bernstein said Tuesday. "The bishop [told] him 'I will always have your back, and you will always have mine.' "
The families of both young men moved to Georgia in order to join Long's church, she said Wednesday.
Robinson's suit alleges that "Defendant Long would use Holy Scripture to discuss and justify the intimate relationship between himself and Plaintiff Robinson."
The lawsuits are seeking unspecified amounts of punitive damages from Long on various counts, ranging from negligence to breach of fiduciary duty.
The suits allege that various staff members working for Long, his church and the LongFellows Academy "knew of Defendant Long's sexually inappropriate conduct and did nothing to warn or protect [the plaintiffs]."
Bernstein said her office is looking into allegations made by others who are afraid to come forward publicly.
She said she warned the young men they would be "crucified" for making the allegations, "and they just said, 'We have to do it, and we know there are others.' "
Accused pastor crusaded against homosexuals.
Atlanta, Georgia (CNN) -- As Bishop Eddie Long poked through a salad in his church office one summer day in 1999, he shot a weary look at a person ticking off his ministry's successes.
His Atlanta megachurch had already reached 25,000 members. He had been invited to the White House, built a global television ministry and drove around town in a $350,000 Bentley.
But Long told the visitor who had come to write about him that the pressures of being a high-profile pastor could be brutal.
"You don't want any of this," he said in a raspy baritone as he shook his head. "You don't want any of this ..."
Long didn't get more specific about those pressures.
Today, the 57-year-old minister, known for his public crusades against homosexuality, faces serious allegations.
On Tuesday, two young men who were members of Long's New Birth Missionary Baptist Church filed lawsuits claiming he used his position as their spiritual counselor to coerce them into sexual relationships.
See PDF of lawsuit filed by Maurice Robinson
The men -- Anthony Flagg, 21, and Maurice Robinson, 20 -- allege Long used a private spiritual ceremony to mark a "covenant" between them, with both becoming his "spiritual son."
See PDF of lawsuit filed by Anthony Flagg
Flagg alleges that Long then used that relationship to take him on overnight trips where they shared a bedroom and engaged in kissing, masturbation and "oral sexual contact."
Robinson, who claimed Long engaged in oral sex with him, said the pastor would cite Scripture to justify their relationship.
"We categorically deny the allegations," Art Franklin, Long's spokesman, said in a written statement. "It is very unfortunate that someone has taken this course of action."
Franklin said "our law firm will be able to respond once attorneys have had an opportunity to review the lawsuit."
The men's lawyer, Brenda Joy (B.J.) Bernstein, would not make them available for comment.
Long's crusades against homosexuality
The allegations against Long run contrary to his public image.
He is a celebrity preacher in the black church world and a star in the evangelical world as well. His church is one of the largest in the country.
In the pulpit, Long seamlessly blends muscle and ministry.
He wears tight shirts that display his weight-lifter arms. He writes books such as "Gladiator, the Strength of a Man," that teach men how to be warriors for God. He says he has a special calling to reach out to men.
He's a married man who preaches about the sanctity of the union between a man and a woman. He denounces homosexuality. In 2004, he led a march in Atlanta against gay marriage. He once declared that his church had created a ministry that "delivered" people from homosexuality.
His public statements about gays and lesbians have helped reinforce homophobia in the black church, says Shayne Lee, a sociologist and author of "Holy Mavericks: Evangelical Innovators and the Spiritual Marketplace."
"The homophobic atmosphere he helped perpetuate," Lee said, could "come back to possibly harm him."
Long's controversial ministry
Long has been the center of public controversy before.
In 2005, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that a charity Long created to help the poor and spread the Gospel had made him its biggest beneficiary.
An examination of the nonprofit's tax returns and other documents revealed that the charity provided him with at least a million dollars in salary over four years, and the use of a $1.4 million home and the $350,000 Bentley.
A frequent critic of black preachers (he once said they "major in storefront churches"), Long responded by saying he was a CEO of a global business who deserved his lifestyle.
"You've got to put me on a different scale than the little black preacher sitting over there that's supposed to be just getting by because the people are suffering," Long said, explaining the compensation he received from his charity.
In 2007, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, of the Senate Finance Committee, sent a letter to Long asking detailed questions about his financial operations. Long was one of six televangelists whom Grassley targeted.
After an initial flurry of publicity following Grassley's request, the investigation appeared to peter out.
Read more stories about faith on CNN's Belief Blog
In recent years, Long seemed to become more humble, says the Rev. Tim McDonald, senior pastor of First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta.
In private talks, McDonald said, Long told him about the pressures of leading a megachurch. He said he no longer had as many close friendships and yearned to return to the more intimate relationships that McDonald seemed to have with his much smaller congregation.
"He said, 'Tim, I may have the numbers, but you have the love,' '' McDonald said.
God's 'scarred leader'
For all his outward confidence, Long also displayed a vulnerable side.
He built an intimate bond with many members of his church by talking about his private failings: his divorce from his first wife; being rejected by his father; and being fired from a job in corporate America.
He called himself God's "scarred leader."
He also became known for his generosity. He would give out cars and money to strangers at church services. He built ministries to help the poor, AIDS patients and young people.
He talked proudly about his ability to reach young men. He called himself a "spiritual daddy" to many of the young men he mentored at New Birth.
He would pay the college tuition for some men, give business suits to others and play basketball and lift weights with his male ministers.
Once, he even boasted to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that some mothers at New Birth trusted him enough to bring their wayward teenage boys to him for paddling.
"When I say bend over, even on Sunday, they bend over," he said, referring to the boys he paddled. "Why? Because they respect me. Because I first died for them ..."
The two men who filed suit against Long, though, said he used their relationships to instruct them, as "spiritual sons," to follow their "master."
They also say Long enticed them "with cars, clothes, jewelry, and electronics." Robinson claims the pastor paid for his college tuition.
In Flagg's suit, he claimed that when some young men found girlfriends, Long would attempt to block those relationships by "increased contact and spiritual talk" about "the covenant between the Spiritual Son and himself."
In addition to Long, the lawsuits name as defendants his church and a youth academy where Long was pastor and mentor. Both suits seek unspecified punitive damages on counts ranging from negligence to breach of fiduciary duty.
Lee, the sociologist who has written about Long, says he expects him to mount a fierce counterattack.
"He'll demonize the accusers," Lee said, "and couch it in terms of how the enemy Satan is trying to hurt the ministry."