The Journal Gazette
 
 
Wednesday, March 02, 2016 11:43 am

Indictment: Church members in fear

Rebecca S. Green | The Journal Gazette

Two separate Kosciusko County Circuit Court indictments unveiled Monday made some pretty amazing allegations: A longtime sheriff on the take and a Christian college professor delivering threats for a white supremacist.

But there was another document, a tort claim filed against the city of Warsaw in mid-September, that seems to fill in some of the gaps around the allegations in the second of the two indictments.

The second 10-count indictment accuses convicted felon Kevin Bronson and Grace College professor, and occasional pastor, Mark Soto of a campaign of threats and intimidation, and it reads as a kind of shakedown operation looking for everything from support for a movie project to dental care.

Soto is accused of three counts of corrupt business influence and three counts of intimidation. Bronson is named in those six counts and an additional four counts of intimidation on his own.

The tort claim, which is a precursor to a civil lawsuit, filed in September details the relationship between the felon and the professor and puts a Winona Lake church in the mix, according to documents.

According to the tort claim, Soto began a relationship with Bronson a number of years ago, serving as a kind of Christian mentor and counselor to the man who had picked up multiple felony convictions for drug possession and other charges.

During the course of their relationship, Bronson named Soto as his power of attorney, giving him authority to handle financial and family matters.

Bronson’s life story, one of criminal behavior to conviction to conversion, was so compelling that someone somewhere wanted to make a movie about the transformation. 

"Bronson had a colored and checkered past which included long periods of imprisonment, membership in a white supremacist organization, developing of martial arts expertise, and long periods of drug abuse," Soto’s attorney wrote in the tort claim.

To make a movie, they needed money. To that end, according to the tort claim, "certain well-to-do members of the community and, in particular, members of Christ Covenant Church of Winona Lake," invested.

All the while, Soto claimed he was working alongside Bronson as a mentor and financial counselor.

While the tort claim paints what happens next as a mere falling out between the church and Bronson over the venture, the indictment describes a pattern of violence that led husbands to move their families in the middle of the night out of fears for their safety. 

Members of the church’s leadership became involved, as well. According to court documents, both the head pastor of the church and a lay pastor of the church are named as victims of the threats. 

Another church member, a local businessman, paid more than $84,000 to Bronson over the course of a year in order to keep the pastor of the church and his family safe from harm.

In the tort document, Soto claims Warsaw police Officer Paul Heaton, a member of Christ Community Church, opened an investigation based on "alleged concerns" expressed by some church members and investors. 

Beginning last March, Heaton tried to interview Soto, but he declined on the advice of his attorney, according to the tort claim. 

So Heaton obtained search warrants and seized computers from Soto’s home and office at the college. In the summer, Kosciusko County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Hampton recused himself and asked for a special prosecutor, according to the tort claim.

In his tort claim, Soto is asking a total of $4 million in damages, citing in part the harm to his reputation and trouble getting his taxes done without his computers. 

On Monday, Indiana State Police officials said they began their investigation in early August.

Neither the second indictment nor the tort claim mentions Kosciusko County Sheriff C. Aaron Rovenstine’s involvement.

The first indictment accuses the third-term sheriff of accepting $40,000 in bribes from Bronson and Soto to allow Soto special and unmonitored access to Bronson during times he was housed at the Kosciusko County Jail.

Rovenstine is also accused of intimidating Heaton when he began an investigation into Bronson this year, according to the indictment.

But there are records of a relationship between Rovenstine and Bronson.

In a 2009 article in the Warsaw Times-Union, then chief-deputy Rovenstine praised Bronson, who was speaking to the newspaper about the movie plans and his martial arts excellence. Those claims are hard to verify, as Bronson is not listed with the organizations he claims inducted him into their Halls of Fame.

"I met him in 1996, and I’ve spent some time with him off and on," Rovenstine said to the Times-Union reporter. "I’ve gotten to know him as a unique individual. He’s strong-willed, but not as bull-headed and as stubborn as he was when I first met him."

Kosciusko County Circuit Court records do not indicate when Bronson or Soto are scheduled to have their first court appearances in the criminal case. 

Rovenstine is scheduled to appear in court for the first time in mid-March.

rgreen@jg.net


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