ATLANTA — A fourth young male member of Bishop Eddie Long's megachurch is suing the prominent pastor, claiming Long coerced him into a sexual relationship.
The lawsuit was filed by Spencer LeGrande, a member of New Birth Charlotte. New Birth Charlotte is a satellite church run by Long in Charlotte, N.C. The lawsuit said Long told LeGrande "I will be your dad" and invited the 17-year-old to journey to Kenya with him in July 2005. LeGrande said that Long gave him a sleeping pill on that trip and that the two engaged in sexual acts.
The Associated Press does not typically identify alleged victims of impropriety, but attorney B.J. Bernstein has said all four of the men who filed lawsuits consented to being identified publicly.
The lawsuit claims Long convinced LeGrande that "engaging in a sexual relationship was a healthy component of his spiritual life," the complaint said.
LeGrande, now 22, said the two continued their relationship on a February 2006 trip to South Africa and after he moved to Atlanta at Long's encouragement. He said that Long also instructed him not to have girlfriends, but that he pulled away in the spring of 2009 after he became "disillusioned." He moved back to Charlotte in October, it said.
The complaint, filed in DeKalb State Court, comes after three other men filed lawsuits on Tuesday and Wednesday saying they were 17- and 18-year-old members of the church when they say Long abused his spiritual authority to seduce them with cars, money, clothes, jewelry, international trips and access to celebrities.
Long is expected on Sunday to deliver the first public message since the men accused him of having sexual relationships with them. He has vehemently denied any wrongdoing through his lawyer and a Twitter posting.
Bishop's attorney, Craig Gillen, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Friday.
The bishop has been an outspoken opponent of gay marriage.
Long's boys' academy guided teens through their "masculine journey" with lessons on financial discipline and sexual control, right down to a little card the students had to carry in their wallets reminding them why they shouldn't have sex.
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The TV pastor bills the boys' academy as a "rite of passage program for males," and it trains about 100 students during a four-month session for $500 a person. Long and his board of advisers, which includes NFL star Ray Lewis, created a daunting regimen.
Long, himself a stocky and muscular man, demands the students run 2 miles in less than 15 minutes and bench press and squat their weight. They even have to write a report on the documentary "Super Size Me," which chronicles a man who eats only fast food during every meal for a month.
Long — whose church's finances have been investigated by Congress — wants the students to keep a sharp fiscal mind, too. They have to understand social security, calculate interest rates on investments and work a job for at least three months.
Long also focuses on relationships, with students making a vow of sexual purity. The young men carry a "SEX Self-Check Card" in their wallets listing their vision for life, a favorite scripture and "3 things you could be doing instead of having sex."
"Our methodology here at LongFellows is to invade and bring about a culture with these young men that they start believing in a standard that they have something that they hold to, that they never give up or never give in, do the things that they are ordained to do," Long said in a promotional video.
That video has been removed from the academy's website since the lawsuits were filed, along with a list of testimonials.
In one of those testimonials, a graduate of the program extolled its virtues.
"Without the LongFellows, I don't know where I'd be," said a young graduate who identified himself as Fabian Stone. "I don't know whether I'd be dead, on the streets, selling drugs — I don't know where I'd be."
Two of the three plaintiffs, though, said in the lawsuits that Long was too cozy with the academy's participants. A third man, who was not enrolled in the academy, has filed a lawsuit making similar accusations.
Anthony Flagg, who joined at age 16, said Long chose him as a "spiritual son" after learning of the young man's challenges growing up without a father. Flagg moved into another minister's home after being arrested on an assault charge — when he was 18. Long would visit, crawl into bed with him and the two would engage in sexual acts, the lawsuit said.
A second plaintiff, Maurice Robinson, said his mother enrolled him in the LongFellows program when he was 14. Long started lavishing attention on him the next year, and a church employee soon rewarded the teen with a Chevy Malibu, the lawsuit said. The two began engaging in sexual acts after an October 2008 trip to New Zealand.
The Associated Press does not normally identify people who claim they are victims of sexual impropriety. But Bernstein, the attorney, has said her clients consented to being named publicly.
The academy's supporters say it was anything but a breeding ground for Long. DeKalb County Sheriff Thomas Brown, who also sits on the academy's advisory board, said it helps keep kids out of trouble.
For instance, the teens learn about the dangers of guns by watching what happens when watermelons and cantaloupes are shot at a firing range. And the sheriff came up with a "verbal judo" course that teaches them how to defuse hostile situations.
"We try to make it so they can make healthy choices for their life," he said.
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