Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Tim Franklin
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

Former cult leader in Pine County Jail

 

Victor Barnard

The former leader of an alleged cult that was once based just west of Finlayson finally appeared in a Pine County courtroom on Monday morning, after spending the past year in a Brazilian jail.

Victor Arden Barnard, appearing frail and weak, had his first appearance in court, facing 58 counts of criminal sexual conduct.

Judge James T. Reuter set bail at $3 million without conditions and $1.5 million with conditions, which would include electronic monitoring, along with surrendering his passport, which authorities already possess.

County Attorney Reese Frederickson, who is prosecuting the case, asked that bail be set at $7 million without conditions and $3 million with conditions. One of Barnard's two attorneys who are representing him, David Risk, asked that bail be set at $50,000.

Barnard was brought back to Pine County early Saturday afternoon by the U.S. Marshals, who, before his arrest, had put him on the nation's Top 15 Most Wanted list.

In Frederickson's remarks, he focused on whether Barnard would be a flight risk if released.

Frederickson said Barnard was the leader of a cult, the River Road Fellowship.

"His followers will do anything for him," Frederickson said. "They believe he is a son of God."

Frederickson said that Barnard refused to cooperate with authorities and while leading the Fellowship, he drove an Escalade and a Cadillac, which were paid for by his followers giving the group any funds they had.

"There is a concern they will shield him," Frederickson said, if Barnard does make bail.

Further, Frederickson noted when Barnard left the area in 2010, he was aware of the investigation against him, and further said he had wealthy followers still in Brazil.

Frederickson also noted that Barnard fought extradition to the United States for over a year.

His followers, Frederickson said, were still visiting him in Brazil, but he said they used "unique schemes," which included prepaid debit cards and going through different states.

"We believe the bail is reasonable," Frederickson said.

Risk, in his remarks, said the use of the word "cult" was "an attempt to prejudice my client," and said "my client is a minister."

Risk also said Barnard was not a flight risk and went to Brazil just to travel in 2012.

"The notion he fled to Brazil to avoid prosecution is ridiculous," Risk said.

Risk further noted it was Barnard who requested extradition.

"It (time spent in Brazilian custody) took a toll on him," Risk stated. "His health has diminished quite a bit."

Risk, who shed light on what defense arguments might be in the future, said some of the charges were beyond the statute of limitations.

"I'm not in a position to put a lot of weight on that," Judge Reuter told Risk.

Risk told the judge Barnard "has no money at all" and "doesn't have significant resources."

Judge Reuter said in his more than 30 years in the legal field, when people waive extradition, it does not normally take over a year to release them.

"He (Barnard) has few ties to this community anymore," Judge Reuter said.

Because Barnard has limited ties to the local area and has ties to a foreign country (Brazil), Reuter said a high bail was warranted.

A Rule 8 hearing on the charges needs to be heard within 14 days, but Risk had a scheduling conflict when the court first set the hearing date. Instead, Risk and Barnard agreed to waive this requirement. His next hearing is set for July 5 at 1:30 p.m.

Barnard was handcuffed and shackled for his appearance. Present in the courtroom were three Twin Cities media members, Sheriff Jeff Nelson and a group of people who left immediately after the hearing.

In May, Barnard was scheduled to be extradited back to the U.S., but there was a disagreement on the exact wording of the agreement. Previously the Brazilian Supreme Court had stated the only way they would release Barnard was if his sentence were not to exceed 30 years in prison. If Barnard was convicted on just a few of the counts, his prison term would easily exceed 30 years. As of Monday afternoon, the Department of Justice had not released the exact wording of the extradition agreement between the United States and Brazil.

The charges against Barnard are on the accusation that he sexually abused teenage girls while leading the River Road Fellowship, girls he called his "Maidens." The two girls, who spoke to authorities in 2012, were of the ages 12 and 13 during the alleged sexual assaults.

The group once had 150 members living about five miles west of Finlayson. In 2000, Barnard created a group called "Maidens" of about 10 girls and women, who were sent to live with him. One of the victims, who was then 13, said within a month Barnard had raped her. The same woman reported Barnard said it was his way of being able to show her "God's love."

In 2008, the group splintered, with some of the members moving to Washington.

When Barnard was not found after charges were filed, the story appeared on the CNN program, "The Hunt with John Walsh."

"The return of Barnard marks the end of the extradition process and starts the prosecution phase of the complaint," Sheriff Jeff Nelson said in a press release Monday morning. "The Sheriff's Office looks forward to working with the Pine County Attorney's Office to ensure a fair prosecution as we seek justice for the victims."

Nelson further thanks the U.S. Marshals, the U.S. Department of Justice, the State Department and Brazilian prosecutors for the work they have done for over a year to help bring Barnard back to face justice.

 

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