Leader of Lord Our Righteousness Church jailed on charges of sexual contact with minors

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The leader of a controversial religious group in New Mexico was arrested Tuesday and is being held by police on multiple charges of sexual contact with minors. Wayne Bent, 66, referred to by his followers as Michael Travesser, was arrested by state police at his compound near Union County, New Mexico. Bent is the leader of a group called the Lord Our Righteousness Church, which moved to its present location in New Mexico near the Colorado border in 2000. His followers refer to the compound and the community as Strong City, and a former member estimates that approximately 50 people live at the compound.

Union County highlighted in location map of New Mexico
Image: David Benbennick.

Department of Public Safety spokesman Peter Olson told the Associated Press (AP) that Bent was charged with three counts of criminal sexual contact with a minor and three counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Clayton, New Mexico Police Department Chief Scott Julian confirmed the charges in a statement to ABC News.

Bent's bail was set at US$500,000 cash by the local magistrate, and his arraignment is set for Thursday in Clayton. According to United Press International, Bent denies that he has had sex with minors but admitted to "lying with naked virgins". Bent is being held at the Clayton-Union County Consolidated Detention Facility pending his arraignment.

State child welfare officials had received reports of inappropriate contact between Bent and children in the group. Last month, New Mexico authorities removed two girls and one boy from the compound. State Children, Youth and Families Department spokeswoman Romaine Serna told the AP that the children were removed from the compound following an April 22 investigation. "We did receive information alleging inappropriate contact with minors on the compound," said Serna in a statement to ABC News. The children were taken into state custody. The affidavit for Bent's arrest warrant alleges that he touched three underage girls in 2006 and 2007. One of the girls was under the age of 12, and all were under age 18.

One day I was in my trailer just relaxing and there was nothing on my mind in particular and then God said to me you are the Messiah.

Wayne Bent, leader of Lord Our Righteousness Church

Bent was previously a preacher for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. After leaving the church in 1987 with a small group of his followers, he moved them to the current compound in Union County, where he claims to have received a message from God where he was told he is the Messiah: "One day I was in my trailer just relaxing and there was nothing on my mind in particular and then God said to me you are the Messiah". Some of Bent's followers left the group after his proclamation that he was the Messiah, but the wives of two members of the group had sex with him in what they believed was a testament to his divinity. Bent admits that he has also had sex with the wife of his son Jeff.

The last eight years is when it got the worst, and when I left I realized how manipulative he was.

—Prudence Welch, former member of Lord Our Righteousness Church

Prudence Welch, a former member of the group who left in 2005, was interviewed by Bill O'Reilly on the program The O'Reilly Factor on FOX News. When O'Reilly asked Welch if Travesser/Bent was doing anything illegal at the compound, Welch responded: "Well, I think that laying naked with underage girls is illegal." She also commented: "The last eight years is when it got the worst, and when I left I realized how manipulative he [Bent] was."

Bent had predicted that the world would end on October 31, 2007. The group was profiled in a documentary film which aired Wednesday on the National Geographic Channel, titled Inside a Cult. The film was adapted from the documentary End of a World Cult, which was shown last year on Britain's Channel 4. All of the minors that had been removed from the compound in April appear in the documentary. The documentary also discusses controversial groups Peoples Temple, Branch Davidians and Heaven's Gate and their respective leaders Jim Jones, David Koresh and Marshall Applewhite.


  Learn more about Lord Our Righteousness Church and Child sexual abuse on Wikipedia.