By Shirin Rajaee

MODESTO (CBS13) — More women are coming forward with sexual abuse allegations against a former Modesto youth pastor

Pastor Les Hughey’s alleged crimes date back to the 1970s. His accusers span from Modesto to his current church in Arizona that has now placed him on leave as they launch a thorough investigation.

“It would be a tearful episode after each time,” said Tracy Epler.

Epler is one of the now seven women who have come forward in interviews with The Modesto Bee.

“It would start very innocent, from dinner or a youth group meeting. Then one girl would be invited to stay, and as the evening would wind down, his wife would go to bed, and then the back rubs would start, and then the back rubs would go further,” said Epler.

Epler says she had an ongoing two-year sexual relationship with Hughey back in the 1970s when she was 17. A relationship she says she was manipulated into, given Hughey’s position and charm.

“It was fear, not knowing what was happening and why, and how to get out of it,” she said.

She and other alleged victims accuse First Baptist Church of Modesto of covering up Hughey’s behavior, and instead of addressing their complaints, she says the church threw Hughey a celebratory sendoff.

“The victims were not talked with or cared for, that was awful, they found him another job, and sent him off,” said Epler.

Following his time in Modesto, Hughey went to Arkansas and Arizona.

He released a statement to the Modesto Bee admitting that he “sinned” and that he “engaged in consensual relationships with fellow college-age staff. With God’s help, my wife’s forgiveness, and discipline and counseling from church authority, I sincerely repented and we put our lives back in order.”

Meanwhile, the current leader of First Baptist that is now Cross Point Community Church who was not with the church when Hughey was on staff, tells CBS in part:

“While these things are incredibly painful to hear, we are also thankful that they have been brought out into the light. We have policies and practices in place to help prevent these kinds of things from happening, ” said Matt Whiteford.

He says the church has a Prevention of Child and Youth Abuse Policy and a Child Protection Services Reporting Policy as well as Live Scan (progressive background check system) of all employees 18 years and older and all volunteers working with children and students.

Meanwhile, Epler says she’s speaking out now because it’s time to make things right.

“I’m speaking out in hopes that other girls will speak out and so that he’s not in a place where it happens again. That’s when I’ll know the job is complete, and that feels good, and that is very healing,” said Epler.

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