Courts & Crime

Leader of Florida's Christian Retreat faces sex allegation

EAST MANATEE — The nationally known leader and founder of Florida's East Manatee's Christian Retreat has been accused in a lawsuit of molesting an 11-year-old Minnesota girl between 2007 and 2009.

Gospel Crusade Ministerial Fellowship founder Gerald Derstine has been sued in federal U.S. District Court in Minnesota, Pinellas Attorney Joseph H. Saunders announced Wednesday, standing at the entrance of Christian Retreat, Derstine’s headquarters since 1968, on Upper Manatee River Road.

Saunders has teamed up with Minnesota attorney Jeffrey Anderson — famous for numerous lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Church amid accusations of abuse by priests in recent years — in suing Derstine.

Anderson filed the lawsuit Wednesday in Minnesota, where Derstine operates a summer retreat, Strawberry Lake Christian Retreat, where the suit claims the abuse occurred. Saunders said though the lawsuit is filed in Minnesota, his firm will be conducting investigations at Derstine’s East Manatee retreat, in search of evidence as the case moves through the court system.

The suit claims Derstine used his position of power to gain the victim’s trust and molested her while the girl was between the ages of 11 and 13. The suit is asking for in excess of $75,000, which is the minimum threshold in federal court, but Saunders said he hopes a jury will decide.

“We think the evidence we have is very solid,” said Saunders. “We’re asking for what a jury thinks is fair.”

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