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Former employee files lawsuit against pastor of First African Methodist Episcopal Church, alleging sexual impropriety

November 4, 2009 |  5:18 pm

A former employee of First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles has accused the pastor, John Hunter, in a civil lawsuit with forcing her into sexual service for four years and firing her when she finally refused to comply.

The Rev. Brenda Lamothe, who worked with Hunter as his executive assistant and in other jobs since 2004, charged in the lawsuit filed Tuesday that the pastor first began pressuring her into inappropriate hugging and kissing in about April 2005 and escalated the demands to sex.

The complaint charges that Hunter told her it was “God’s will” to satisfy his desires and regularly demanded sex both at his church office and hotels in Southern California, Virginia and North Carolina.

“Plaintiff felt trapped and scared. Pastor John is considered a prophet, and as a prophet he demanded sex from her -- it was her duty, given by God – the only way to fulfil her job and ministry,” says the complaint, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Hunter’s attorney, Robert W. Brockman Jr., said the allegations were categorically untrue.

The pastor, his wife, Denise and the church filed their own lawsuit against Lamothe on Tuesday. The suit charged her with stealing documents from the Hunters and using them to attempt to extract money from them. The documents at issue involve correspondence, some of them love notes, written by Hunter to an unnamed recipient. The pastor says they were written to his wife; Lamothe says they were written to her.

“Clearly, Pastor John did not have any inappropriate relationship with her at any time,” Brockman said, referring to Lamothe. “We believe Ms. Lamothe … is attempting to obtain money from the church in an unlawful manner that she is not entitled to.”

Lamothe’s complaint alleges that she was fired in 2009 after she began to refuse his sexual demands. But Brockman provided The Times with a 2008 resignation letter, signed by a “Rev. Brenda Lamothe,” that expressed gratitude to Hunter for bringing “blessings” to her life.

The dueling lawsuits bring further controversy to the once-storied church, one of the city’s oldest and largest African American congregations and long considered a leading light for social justice and community activism. It has been a de rigueur stop for Democratic politicians and celebrities, including President Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Michael Jackson.

Hunter, who was appointed five years ago under a cloud of controversy, has come under fire for spending more than $122,000 in personal items on church credit cards and owing the Internal Revenue Service more than $300,000 in federal taxes, interest and penalties.

But Hunter was reappointed to First AME this week by Bishop T. Larry Kirkland after dozens of congregants spoke in his support.  The church’s steward board issued a statement supporting the legal action against Lamothe.

-- Teresa Watanabe