The Scottsdale Police Department has forwarded a 100-page report to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office detailing a dozen allegations of sexual abuse, inappropriate touching and indecent exposure levied against a former Scottsdale pastor.
Les Hughey worked as a youth pastor at Scottsdale Bible Church in the 1980s and 1990s before founding Highlands Church, also in Scottsdale.
In the past year, dozens of former youth group members who attended Scottsdale Bible Church during Hughey’s tenure told police about a toxic culture within the youth group that included inappropriate touching and alleged sexual abuse.
Former Scottsdale Bible pastor Bob Wade is also named as an offender on an allegation of indecent exposure in the report due to allegations by at least one male former youth group member that both Hughey and Wade exposed themselves to boys on a youth group trip in California.
Wade took over as lead pastor at Highlands Church after Hughey resigned last year and is listed as a staff member at the Highlands Institute, a non-accredited theological study program in Scottsdale.
The allegations against Hughey include that he gave and received massages from girls between the ages of 15 and 19 and, in some cases, massaged their breasts and touched their genitalia over their clothing.
News of allegations against Hughey first broke in April 2018, when the Modesto Bee reported on allegations made by at least seven women that Hughey engaged in inappropriate touching and massages with them when they were teenagers at a Modesto, California, church where he was employed in the 1970s.
The Bee reported that Epler allegedly had sex with girls as young as 17 while at the Modesto’s First Baptist Church.
When informed by one victim of the scandal, the church allegedly chose to cover it up and ship Hughey out of town, one victim told the Bee.
Then Epler came to Scottsdale.
According to the Modesto Bee, Highlands hired a firm called MinistrySafe to investigate the situation.
Scottsdale Bible Church also hired a private firm to investigate Hughey’s behavior, according to the police report, and held a meeting for members with police so any victims or witness could learn how to file a report.
Scottsdale Police Sgt. Ben Hoster said the department’s investigation began about one year ago.
The department forwarded its report to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office last month, Hoster said. It will now be up to that office to determine whether or not to file charges.
Who has jurisdiction in the cases is unclear, because none of the crimes in the report took place in Scottsdale. The allegations reported to police took place in Mexico, California and northern Arizona.
Scottsdale Police reports include a dozen interviews with current and former Scottsdale Bible Church members and leaders along with others who have worked with Hughey in the intervening years.
The report includes information from eight victims, male and female, who were mostly between the ages of 15 and 19 when the alleged events occurred.
The allegations made by female victims in almost every case involve Hughey requesting massages from teenage members of the youth group while on mission or choir trips.
According to several victims on those Mexico trips, Hughey slept in a van with a bed while the boys and girls slept in separate quarters.
Multiple victims told Scottsdale Police that Hughey had them brought to the van and asked them to massage him. He would then allegedly massage the girls and, in several cases, touch them inappropriately.
Other victims alleged that Hughey used similar tactics while on choir trips to California and in his own home in Phoenix after the teenage girls babysat his children.
While many victims stated they felt uncomfortable at the time, many said they did not confront Hughey because they trusted him as their religious leader.
Hughey had also created a “culture of touching”, according to the report.
Several former male members of the youth group told similar stories about the culture of touching within the group and Hughey’s penchant for normalizing inappropriate physical interactions between children and adults.
Two male members also alleged Hughey inappropriately exposed himself to high school boys in his charge.
One male member of the youth group alleged that Hughey would regularly get completely naked in front of high school-aged boys during youth group trips and it was not uncommon for other staff to walk around naked.
One man, now 45, told Scottsdale Police that on a trip in 1987 he woke up to find Hughey straddling him in the nude playing guitar with 40 to 50 other high school boys in the room. The victim would have been around 16 at the time.
Several victims described a cult personality created within the youth group by Hughey, whom they described as a narcissistic.
According the report, Hughey would ostracize members of the youth group who aged out and wanted to join the college group.
Victims also reported that Hughey discouraged girls from dating outside of the youth group and often belittled boys in the group in front of others.
He also allegedly made sexually-charged and inappropriate jokes regularly and frequently used homophobic language.
More than one victim recalled a trip to San Francisco during which Hughey stuck his head out of the window of the van and yelled at gay men.
One woman recalled, according the police report, that the phrase “submit, woman!” was prevalent in the youth group.
How much Scottsdale Bible leadership knew of Hughey’s behavior is unclear.
Kory Schuknecht, a pastor with Scottsdale Bible who has attended the church since 1976, denied having knowledge of Hughey’s behavior.
Schuknecht told Scottsdale Police that no one reported Hughey’s behavior to the church and that he first heard about it from the Modesto Bee.
There is some evidence, however, that at least some in church leadership knew, or should have known, about Hughey’s behavior.
Multiple victims said that Hughey often encouraged youth group members to give each other shoulder and back massages during church events and that it was common knowledge that this took place.
One victim told police that after giving Hughey a massage at his home in, she told her mother who became distraught and told her to never do it again.
That victim’s father was an elder at the church and she told police that her mother had informed elders about the incident.