A former associate pastor of a Swancreek Township church has been charged by the U.S. Department of Justice with receiving child pornography.
A criminal information was filed Jan. 5 against Gerald B. Searle, 51, of Libery Center for his receipt of material exhibiting a child’s sexual exploitation, according to Steven Dettelbach, a U.S. attorney for the DOJ Northern District of Ohio. Between May 24, 2013, and April 1, 2015, Searle allegedly received multiple images of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct.
Authorities seized a computer tablet and an external hard drive from Searle’s home on April 20, 2015.
He will be arraigned Jan. 21 at 10 a.m. in U.S. District Court in Toledo.
Searle was an associate pastor at Shiloh Christian Union Church beginning in 2010. He resigned last April, citing personal reasons.
Shiloh Senior Pastor Chuck Whitmire said, to his knowledge, Searle never acted improperly in his position. He said neither he nor other staff members received complaints concerning Searle during his tenure.
“There’s no evidence that there were any other people involved or of anything that happened on church property,” he said. “There was no hint any time, anywhere, of anything inappropriate. It was just a personal problem.”
Whitmire said he was surprised to hear of the charge against Searle. “It was really unfortunate. We’re all broken-hearted over it,” he said.
While Searle was on the list of substitute bus drivers for Liberty Center Local Schools last school year, he had not driven at least since Tod Hug became the district’s superintendent last April, according to Hug. Searle did not submit for a bus driving position this school year.
A request for a comment from Searle went unanswered.
Because it’s a case dealing with child protection issues “it’s especially troubling (involving someone) in a position of trust and responsibility,” Dettelbach said.
Citing an ongoing investigation, he declined to discuss the case further, including how the DOJ was made aware of the alleged crime.
A news release issued Tuesday by the DOJ states that, if convicted, Searle’s prior criminal record would help determine his sentence. The court websites for Fulton and Henry counties show no record of past criminal charges filed against him.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.