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Charlotte man charged with child rape

A man who told authorities he was an associate pastor at a west Charlotte church was charged with eight felony sex crimes after officers say they received evidence from two victims under 13 years old.

And Friday wasn't the first time Lawrence Webber, 60, a member of Reeder Memorial Baptist Church, had been accused of criminally inappropriate actions around children. The church's leader said Webber has never been a pastor there.

The police department's violent criminal apprehension team arrested Webber Friday evening. He was charged with three counts of rape of a child under 13 and five counts of indecent liberties with a child.

Webber was in Mecklenburg jail Saturday evening and had been given a $550,000 bond. Police released little information about the reported crimes, saying only that they received evidence from the juveniles. The lead detective in the case did not return calls or e-mail messages seeking additional details.

In 1997, Webber was convicted of taking indecent liberties with a child – charges stemming from a 1991 incident in Gaston County. He received a suspended sentence and probation for the crime, N.C. Department of Corrections records show.

On Saturday, the church's senior minster said he knew of Webber's criminal history. But Don Steger said Webber was not a pastor at the 1,200-member church and wasn't a member of Reeder Memorial's leadership team. Steger said a magistrate told him that Webber had written on an intake form that he was a pastor.

Webber's family – he has a wife and a small boy, Steger said – has been a member of the church on Beatties Ford Road north of Interstate 85 for several years. Webber sang in the men's choir and played the drums.

Webber is listed on the N.C. sex offender registry, which is accessible via the Internet, but Steger said he learned of Webber's past crimes in a private counseling session a few years after the Webbers joined the church. He said other aspects of that counseling were confidential.

The church runs background checks on paid staff members and people who have specific duties, like handling money or ministering to children.

Webber also preached a sermon or two in his time at the church, Steger said, but it's not uncommon for lay members to do so. Webber also was involved in a ministry unaffiliated with the church that fed meals to the homeless.

Steger said he will tell members of his church today that none of the children in the church were involved in the alleged criminal acts. However, police have not said whether any other church members were involved and typically don't release the names of sexual assault victims.

Steger said he also would encourage them to remember that theirs is a church that ministers to people with all kinds of backgrounds.

“A key word for me is redemption,” Steger said. “I've never turned anybody down for membership simply because they had a record. … We take seriously that we have redemption in Jesus Christ. I preach redemption every single Sunday.”

Police encourage anyone with information to call the department's Special Victims Division at 704-336-2418 or Detective Pierette Perry at 704-336-2507.

Staff writer Greg Lacour contributed.
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