A former youth pastor pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 months in jail Wednesday for sexual assault of a minor.
Shaun Michael Ross, 33, of Grantsville, was facing two charges of sexual abuse of a minor following an indictment in July.
Ross worked as youth minister at Calvary Assembly church in Walkersville until he was confronted by the church about the long-term inappropriate relationship with a teenage girl.
According to the indictment, Ross had a relationship with the girl between April 2008 and April 2010, when he was trusted in a position of authority.
“This was a manipulation that went on and occurred at a time when he was her counselor,” Assistant State's Attorney Lindell K. Angel said. “This is a very serious offense.”
Angel said Ross built up his relationship with the victim over time through texting and video phone calls. He would mail her gifts or bring them to church for her, she said.
Ross told the teenager that it was OK for her to talk to him about sex because he was her youth pastor and the safest person to learn from, Angel said.
Angel said some of the physical relationship took place at the church.
“The impact goes way beyond words,” the victim told Judge G. Edward Dwyer Jr. “I got a wolf in sheep's clothing” and “a lousy excuse for a man.”
The woman, now 21, said she never wanted to see Ross again and that “I have a joy in me that cannot be squashed.”
Ross apologized to the victim and his own family during the two-hour sentencing hearing. He said he prays every day that the emotional wounds of the victim heal so she can live a full and happy life.
“I believe more than anything that I am no longer that man,” Ross said, referring to the charges against him.
His wife said she didn't know Ross was living a “secret life” with the girl. Since he was confronted, he has rededicated himself to her and their child, a 6-year-old son.
“He's changed. And he's not going to stop changing,” she said, adding that she'd forgiven him.
Kush Arora, Ross' defense attorney, said his client was cooperative throughout the investigation and has enrolled in treatment for sex addiction. He will remain in a program for at least the next year or two, Arora said.
As part of the treatment, Ross confessed all his actions to his entire family, who will keep him accountable in the future, Arora said.
“I believe these actions will never be repeated in Shaun's life again,” his father, the Rev. Terry Ross, said during the hearing.
Shaun Ross worked for a period of time in the children's ministry at his father's church in Syracuse, N.Y., after he was fired from Calvary Assembly, according to a report from The Post-Standard newspaper there.
On Wednesday, John Kenney, lead pastor at Calvary Assembly, said the church has no tolerance for such “heinous acts” and the church was focusing on giving the victim's family special care to assist in their healing from the trauma.
When the church learned of the allegations, Ross was immediately confronted, and after admitting to the relationship, was immediately escorted from the church property, Kenney said. The church fully cooperated with a Maryland State Police investigation and reported the allegations to the District Council and General Council of the Assemblies of God.
Ross' credentials as a minister were revoked, Kenney said.
“Now that justice has prevailed, it is our hope that any future potential victims will be spared and all victims involved may find healing,” Kenney wrote in a statement.
Dwyer sentenced Ross to 18 months in jail, with an additional 23 1/2-year suspended sentence. After his release, Ross will have to serve five years of supervised probation. If he violates the terms of probation, the court could impose the suspended time.
Ross will also have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. He cannot have any unsupervised conduct with girls younger than 16 and cannot work in a job that involves children.
Follow Danielle E. Gaines on Twitter: @danielleegaines.