Harry Thomas built a reputation as a popular pastor and the founder of the nation's largest Christian music festival, but now he is headed to prison for nearly two decades for molesting a number of young children.
The 75-year-old pastor of Come Alive New Testament Church in New Jersey pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 9-year-old girl in 2005 and having sexual contact with three other girls between the ages of 7 and nine over a 10-year period. He also pleaded guilty to exposing himself to a girl between 2008 and 2010. As CBS Philadelphia reported, relatives of the victims showed up in court this week and had some very harsh words for Thomas, calling him a "ravenous wolf" and a "hypocrite" for molesting young girls while leading a congregation.
Harry Thomas apologized for his actions, citing the Bible in saying that he deserves to be "cast into the sea."
"I agree with the scriptures," he said. "It would be better for a millstone to be hung around my neck and be cast into the sea. That's what I deserve."
Thomas was a co-founder of the Creation Festival, cited as the largest Christian music festival in the United States. The four-day festival has traditionally drawn between 50,000 and 100,000 attendants each year, with some of the best-known acts in Christian music preforming along with Christian speakers, children's entertainment, and prayer services.
The festival has since distanced itself from its founder since his arrest on multiple counts of molesting young girls, releasing a statement last year that the festival's current organizers had been working with authorities on the investigation.
"While the allegations are unrelated to his roles in these ministries, leadership is actively cooperating with the authorities and has determined this to be the proper course of action at this time until there can be a full investigation," the festival noted (via the Christian Post). "It is requested that all pray for the parties involved."The victims had not come forward, citing a need for privacy.
Aside from his work on the Creation Festival, Harry Thomas was known for his work in leading Come Alive Church, the Courier Post noted. He had previously advocated in favor of Raymond and Vanessa Jackson, church members who police had accused of starving their four foster children, even founding a now-defunct website to plead their case.
As the Courier Post noted, Harry Thomas had initially faced up to 20 years in prison per the terms of his plea agreement.