GASTONIA A former Gastonia pastor goes on trial in federal court in February on charges he traveled to Haiti on a church ministry and engaged in illicit sex with two minors.
Creole-speaking witnesses from Haiti will testify with the aid of a translator.
In May, Larry Michael Bollinger, 66, pleaded not guilty to the charges in a federal court hearing in Charlotte. A judge denied bond and Bollinger has remained behind bars since then.
Prosecutors said four victims were identified, but Bollinger was accused of illicit conduct with two girls, ages 11 and 12.
A Lutheran minister for 33 years, Bollinger was pastor at Christs Evangelical Lutheran Church in Stanley when he and his wife left for Haiti to work with the Lazarus Project in 2004.
A mostly Lutheran ministry, the Lazarus Project runs a vocational school and medical clinic in Haiti.
According to an indictment, the alleged misconduct took place in 2009. A spokesman for The Lazarus Project said Bollinger worked for several years as coordinator, but was removed from the position when the allegations arose.
Prosecutors said the allegations surfaced after Bollinger visited a psychotherapist in the U.S. to seek treatment for sex addiction. The therapist then reported the information to federal authorities.
According to prosecutors, the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010 delayed the investigation, but eventually the victims were found.
Delays in complex case
The case is being handled locally by the Charlotte office of Homeland Security Investigations, assisted by two agents with the agencys Office of International Affairs. Both agents are assigned to and live in the Dominican Republic.
The trial already has been continued three times on motions by Bollingers lawyers. The trial had been set for the Dec. 3 court term, but prosecutors sought a continuance for several reasons, including a delay in securing funds to get witnesses to the U.S.
According to court records, the government anticipates calling four Haitian witnesses, three of whom are minors.
Because they are minors they will be accompanied to the U.S. for the trial by an adult family member. The fourth Haitian witness is about 18; she will also be accompanied by an adult.
None of the witnesses or chaperones has a passport or ever traveled outside of Haiti. None speak passable English.
Court records said it had been unexpectedly difficult in getting the witnesses and chaperones passports and visas.
Because its a federal case, the U.S. Department of Justice provides money for those documents. Court records said the U.S. Attorneys Office has been trying to get that funding since August, but the management division of the Justice Department only recently wired the funds to Haiti.
The government believes that it is best that personnel associated with the U.S. law enforcement handle the money and otherwise assist the Haitian victims and chaperones in obtaining travel documents, court records state.
But the process is time consuming since Homeland Security has no full-time presence in Haiti. Also, the agents working in the Dominican Republic dont speak enough Creole to help get the travel documents. Homeland Security does have vetted Creole-speaking officers from the Dominican National Police who can assist if given enough notice, according to court records.
Prosecutors believe the victims and chaperones can get the necessary documents in time to travel to the U.S. for a February trial.
Also, the government said advance planning will be necessary to arrange for translators to accompany the Haitians during their time outside court.
The prosecution will have to secure a translator for court and make travel arrangements.
The trial has been set for the week of Feb. 4 in U.S. District Court in Charlotte.
Bollinger has declined the Observers request for an interview.
The Rev. Nancy Kraft, pastor of Charlottes Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, where Bollinger is a member, has visited him in the Mecklenburg County Jail and said hes been involved with Bible study groups there.
I think hes doing fine under the circumstances, she said. Hes anxious to get the trial over with.