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Police reports filed against former Modesto youth pastor as more victims come forward

The Highlands Church in Scottsdale, Az. is pictured March 30, 2018.
The Highlands Church in Scottsdale, Az. is pictured March 30, 2018. Jeff Jardine/ Special To The Bee

Police are investigating the former Modesto youth pastor who is accused of sexual acts with teenage girls who attended his churches in California and Arizona.

Scottsdale, Ariz., police Sgt. Ben Hoster confirmed Friday that two women have filed reports against Les Hughey with his department.

Hughey, now 64, was a youth pastor at First Baptist Church in Modesto in the 1970s. Women recently came forward to accuse Hughey of coercing them into having sex when they were teenagers and he was a young married man. After The Modesto Bee's initial report came out, more women reported sexual misconduct stemming from Hughey's time at Scottsdale Bible Church, where he worked before starting Highlands Church.

The two reports filed in Scottsdale both pertain to incidents that occurred out of his department's jurisdiction, Hoster said: one was in Mexico and one was in northern Arizona. But they were similar in their accounts of what happened, claiming Hughey gave the girls massages that turned into groping.

Tracy Epler of Los Osos describes her encounters as a teen with then-youth pastor Les Hughey when he served at First Baptist Church in Modesto, Calif.

One of the alleged victims was 14 or 15 at the time; that could make a difference because there is no statute of limitations for sexual assault victims under 15, Hoster said. The other victim was 17 at the time the alleged assault occurred.

Jennifer Parrella said she was 14 or 15 when she accompanied Hughey as part of a youth group on a mission in Mexico in 1988 or 1989, when he was with Scottsdale Bible Church. That church also is conducting an investigation into Hughey's actions when he was there.

Parrella said she was summoned from her sleeping bag to a Hughey's van. "Les told me he needed a massage and he only let girls massage him," she wrote in an email to The Bee. She said she was told to get on top of Hughey, who was wearing only a towel and underwear or a bathing suit, and massage him.

Now a marriage therapist on the East Coast, Parrella said in a phone interview that she knew it was "horrible and I was upset." She also "felt like it was something that went on that just happened. He was given a superstar status."

"Being a parent myself and being a therapist," she said, "I'm absolutely amazed he got away with all of it."

The other victim, who asked that her name not be used, said she has set up an email address for any other potential victims who may not feel comfortable coming forward to the church or who want to remain anonymous: weareherewomen@gmail.com.

Hughey, who has admitted only to having "consensual relations with fellow college-aged staff," was removed from Highlands, a Scottsdale church he founded 20 years ago.

The church elders have posted updates on the church's website. The latest says elders accepted Hughey's resignation, effective immediately, on Wednesday after putting him on a leave of absence April 21.

They determined "Les is no longer qualified to serve as an overseer and Elder. This was made clear following his admission that he engaged in inappropriate and sinful sexual activity with women while he was married, failed to properly resolve the matter consistent with biblical requirements, and subsequently failed to disclose the past behavior when applying for future positions where such behavior was relevant to the position."

Anyone who believes he or she has been a victim of a sexual crime in Scottsdale can call the Scottsdale Police Department at 480-312-5000.

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