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Ministry Leaders, Wives Face Assault, Molestation Charges

Associated Press

Two leaders of a Christian ministry in Everett and their wives have been charged with child molestation and assault and booked into jail.

Michael Follett, 47, pastor of the Liberty and Freedom Church, was charged Thursday with second-degree child molestation, indecent liberties and third-degree assault.

Charged with one count each of indecent liberties and third-degree assault were Follett’s wife, Linda, 46, and James L. and Janiece Woolman, both 45, of Arlington.

Charging papers filed in Snohomish County Superior Court also said that the group pressured, verbally and physically abused and isolated other members of the church as part of a “pattern of charismatic control techniques.”

Prosecutors are asking for bail to be set at $50,000 for Michael Follett and $20,000 for the others.

A man who answered the phone at the church refused to identify himself and declined to comment Friday.

Prosecutors allege that Follett’s 20-year-old daughter suffered severe beatings at the hands of her father, stepmother and others since the age of 12. Some of the beatings were connected to church activities and others were in more private settings, prosecutors said.

Follett’s molestation charge stems from alleged sexual abuse of his daughter in 1988 or 1989 when he exposed himself and made her touch him, telling her that he had to teach her “the facts of life,” the papers said.

Prosecutors said the indecent liberties charges resulted from an incident three years ago, when Follett’s daughter was allegedly beaten, stripped to the waist and had her breasts forced into a man’s face.

According to court papers, Michael Follett and James Woolman said “it turned them on” to see the daughter’s bare chest.

Follett had been arrested Aug. 15 for investigation of child molestation in a separate incident. At the time, authorities said only that the case involved a member of Follett’s family and was not related to any incident involving the church. He was freed on bail.

Prosecutors said Follett, who was pastor of a Monroe church in the late 1970s and early 1980s, was ousted after allegedly stealing money and making sexual advances to a female church member who was married.

Follett and Woolman joined forces in 1989, when Woolman’s Carnation church was closing. Follett bought the building, and called it New Testament Church, which later became Liberty and Freedom. Follett moved the church to Everett 3-1/2 years ago.

The men referred to themselves as prophets of God and encouraged members to take direction from church leaders in all matters.

“An integral part of the church (was) small group sessions that started out as Bible study, but ended up being intense interrogations of individual members until the (member) admitted his or her sins,” the papers said.

They also taught that the outside world was evil, court papers said.

Woolman, who recently identified himself as one of the leaders of Liberty and Freedom, has said it is no longer a church, but rather a nonprofit Christian ministry devoted to starting Christian schools.

The church runs the Liberty Academy, a kindergarten-through-12th-grade school that charges 10 percent of a family’s income, court papers said.

It also operates Liberty Institute, which has Bible studies and counseling sessions to get adult members “right with God.” Another business, Liberty Services Enterprises, is a cleaning service that includes teenagers who hold car washes.

According to court papers, Linda Follett, who was in charge of Mary Kay cosmetics sales and recruits obtained by female members of the church, pressured the women to sell $600 worth of the products a month.

Several former members told police they were also pressured to turn over estate proceeds, sell their homes or otherwise give money to the church.

A former member of the Carnation church said the Folletts told her to spank her 12-year-old daughter “until she broke.”

The mother was instructed to use her hands until the girl’s skin broke. Then she was told to use a paddle.

“The girl’s buttocks were bruised and scabbed,” court papers said.

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