SARASOTA, FL —A Facebook video led to the arrest of a prominent religious leader in Sarasota on a child sex charge as he celebrated his 72nd birthday.
Henry Lee Porter, Sr., who founded the Henry L. Porter Evangelistic Association and whose bio says a downtown Sarasota street was once dedicated in his honor, is facing a charge of sexual battery of a child under 12 years of age.
“Mr. Porter has been sexually abusing children for decades,” a prosecutor told a judge shortly after Porter’s arrest during a traffic stop on Jan. 2. “It spans multiple generations and as far as we can tell, started in the 1970s.” Porter denied the charge through his attorney.
Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino and members of the Sarasota Police Department Criminal Investigations Division plan to hold a news conference on Wednesday to discuss the case against Porter, whose bio also claims he has been inducted into the Sarasota Hall of Fame and State of Florida Gospel Hall of Fame.
Titled: “The Art of Manipulation; My Survival of Molestation,” the Facebook video was created by a man who described himself as Porter’s Godson. He was 15 at the time of the alleged sexual abuse starting in the 1980s. Porter was a bishop in his church at the time.
“I was molested as a teenager by my mentor, God Dad and bishop,” the victim said in the video, which was posted under the victim’s own name. Patch is withholding the victim’s name because of the nature of the allegations.
“Not only was I molested, it was under the guise of love and teaching me. I also felt that there was this silent coercion of sameness,” according to the video. “In public, I was always told you should be all that God created without limits. But, in private, I’m to assimilate my ideas and conform to what the good bishop wants, whenever he wants it, because growing up at that time we were always told he’s the almighty hand of God in your life.”
In 2016, the Herald-Tribune of Bradenton reported that Porter’s son took over for him as pastor of the Westcoast Center for Human Development. The elder Porter incorporated the Westcoast Center for Human Development in 1971, according to the newspaper account.
Genevieve Judge of the Sarasota Police Department told Patch the charge against Porter did not stem from the Facebook video though the video led police to open an investigation on Oct. 29.
Court documents said the molestation of the man who released the video included fondling, masturbation as well as oral and anal sex. The alleged sexual abuse took place between the ages of 15 to 21.
Sarasota police said they were led to additional victims by the man who released the video, including another man who was 11 at the time of the alleged sexual abuse. Police said there were two previous investigations of Porter in 1990 and 2001 in which police obtained statements from more than 20 victims of alleged sexual abuse by Porter.
“The alleged sexual abuse occurred while they attended Westcoast Center for Human Development; on mission trips throughout America and abroad on church-sponsored trips,” court documents said. “All of those incidents of sexual abuse were outside of the statute of limitations when the victims provided statements to law enforcement which prevented criminal charges.”
Court documents said investigators discovered more than four decades of children and adults suffering sexual abuse by Porter.