A former minister at a large Owatonna church has been charged with multiple felonies after a woman reported he sexually assaulted her while she was a student at the school associated with the church – and again as an adult.A second woman reported he had attempted sexual contact with her, also when she was a student.
Luverne Zacharias, 46, of Medford, faces one count each of first- and second-degree criminal sexual conduct, as well as two counts each of third- and fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct, as reported by the Steele County Times.
According to the criminal complaint obtained by the outlet, the alleged abuse took place between 2006 and 2009, when the victim was a student at El Shaddai Christian School in Owatonna. It was affiliated with and overseen by Christian Family Church, where Zacharias served as a youth pastor.
Zacharias Told Victim He Couldn't Control Himself Around Her, She was Like His 'Kryptonite'
Zacharias was a teacher and principal at the school; the victim was about 14 years of age when the inappropriate touching began, the complaint says.
The woman told police that Zacharias would meet her in the basement of the school when she was sent to get milk for her classmates at lunchtime and during breaks. He allegedly touched her breasts and genitals over her clothing at first, doing it at least once every day, the woman said.
Zacharias would give her notes, tell her she was beautiful and that she reminded him of his daughter. He also reportedly told her he couldn't control himself around her, and that she was "like my kryptonite."
After about eight months, Zacharias started to touch the victim under her clothing, digitally penetrating her and making her feel his genitals over his clothing, the complaint says. The alleged assaults occurred during the school day and also at youth group.
Zacharias Assaulted the Victim in His Office at the Church
He also assaulted the victim in his office at the church, the report says, and continued until she graduated from the school. The woman told authorities she didn't think anyone would believe her, "because of his place in the church and school."
Zacharias continued to contact her after her graduation; she was still a member of the church. In 2019, he called her to his office in the church's new building and asked for oral sex, the complaint says; she complied because she "felt like she still needed to do what he asked."
In 2021, Zacharias texted her while she was on a church trip to Texas, allegedly asking for nude photos or videos; she did not comply, and asked him to leave her alone.
Church Pastors Told Victim to 'Think About Zacharias' Family and Kids' When She Reported Assault
Court documents state the victim reported the alleged assault to pastors Tim and Cherrie Peterson. They told her they would hold Zacharias accountable for his actions, but told the victim to "think about Zacharias's family and kids and what they might go through if she went to law enforcement," the complaint says.
The woman eventually went to Owatonna Police in March 2022 because she "does not think the church is going to do enough to keep kids safe," the report says. Zacharias did step down from his position in the church, but no date is provided in the criminal complaint.
Zacharias was an assistant for the Petersons for 16 years, starting as a "helper" at El Shaddai, then youth pastor, then assistant pastor, then campus pastor. A second woman said Zacharias approached her around 2011, when she was a student at El Shaddai.
She told authorities Zacharias would give her hand-written notes, asking for oral sex, for nude photos, and if she would ever be with a married man, court documents say. The woman said she would tell him no, or freeze and tense up when he asked the questions.