A former counseling pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel said former and current church staff failed to report at least one incident of suspected sexual exploitation of a minor by former Harvest Youth Pastor Paxton Singer. The former Harvest counselor, Rob Williams, also alleged that a former Harvest executive warned him not to report suspected abuse, while a church attorney stood by and said nothing.
Singer, who was charged on October 17, 2018, with sexual exploitation of a child, is awaiting a bench trial set for July 10 in Kane County, Illinois.
According to Williams, Aurora Campus Pastor Craig Steiner became aware of a new case of suspected abuse by Singer on January 31, 2018. (Earlier in January, Harvest pastors had discovered and reported an alleged inappropriate texting relationship between Singer and a different student.)
Though Steiner says he reported the suspected abuse the same day, Williams said when he talked to DCFS on June 13, 2018, officials told him they have no record of a report by Steiner. Also, an official DCFS letter about the case cites June 13, 2018, as the report date, not January 31.
Steiner, however, maintains that he called the DCFS hotline on January 31, 2018, and says Harvest phone records show an eight-minute call to the hotline on that day.
Williams also alleged that on February 1, 2018, former Harvest COO Scott Milholland came into Williams’ office “angry and aggressive,” along with Harvest Attorney Chris Nudo. Williams said Millholland told Williams not to talk about the new incident involving Singer, which Steiner had discovered the previous day, with anyone else, or police, or “things will not go well for you.”
“Williams said Millholland told Williams not to talk about the new incident involving Singer . . . with anyone else, or police, or ‘things will not go well for you.’”
Williams said that the day before, Nudo had told him that he was “90-percent sure” that Harvest needed to report the new allegations concerning Singer to police. Williams said Nudo responded that Milholland is his boss, and if he says anything to Milholland, he won’t have a job.
I spoke with Milholland, who now is chief operations officer at Grapevine Faith Christian School in Grapevine, Texas. Milholland denied ever telling Williams not to report an incident involving Singer. Furthermore, Milholland said he never met with Williams in Williams’ office.
Milholland said Rob was “staff level,” and as COO, Milholland didn’t deal directly with staff-level employees. Milholland said Nudo talked with Rob separately, and that the talks did not involve Milholland.
I called Chris Nudo for his side of the story, but he did not respond. However, on October 24, 2018, a week after Singer was charged, Nudo sent Williams a letter threatening him with “legal recourse” if Williams did not abide by a non-disclosure, non-disparagement agreement Williams had signed before resigning his position with Harvest in March 2018.
Williams wife, Caroline, says she witnessed Milholland confront her husband in Rob’s office by peering through a small window in the office door. Caroline said she had come to Rob’s office that day shortly after attending a women’s Bible study at the church.
Caroline said when she looked through the office door window, she saw Milholland’s back to the door and her husband, who was facing her. Rob also said he remembers seeing his wife “wide-eyed” as she observed the interaction. Caroline described Milholland’s body language as aggressive and said he was leaning in towards Rob.
“He was told not to report it (the suspected abuse involving Singer) . . . ‘Rob doesn’t make stuff up. He’s extremely truthful in everything.”
Caroline said she waited in a cubicle kitty-corner to the door for the meeting to end. She said after about five minutes, she saw Milholland exit Rob’s office with Nudo. Caroline described the encounter as “definitely the most lifechanging experience we had at Harvest,” and one that convinced the couple that they had to leave the church.
Terri Streich, a former counselor at Harvest who used to work with Rob Williams, said Williams told her about the incident with Milholland and Nudo shortly after it happened. “(Williams) was so upset,” Streich said. “He was told not to report it (the suspected abuse involving Singer).” Streich added, “Rob doesn’t make stuff up. He’s extremely truthful in everything.”
Williams Discovers Harvest’s Failure to Report
Williams said initially, he believed that Steiner had reported the suspected abuse to DCFS in January 2018. However, given his earlier conversations with leadership, he said he had some doubts, so he called DCFS in June for an update on the investigation.
Williams said DCFS officials told him in June that they had only one report involving Singer. That report involved a different student, and was made on January 9, 2018, by former Lead Pastor of Student Ministry Landon MacDonald.
Williams said he then filed a report with DCFS involving the student Steiner had told him about on January 31, which Williams said led to Singer being charged on October 17. This was corroborated by a letter Williams received from DCFS on October 12, 2018, stating that his report was “indicated,” meaning that “credible evidence of child abuse or neglect was found during this investigation.”
Williams’ account also is consistent with the Chicago Tribune’s article on Singer’s arrest, which stated that the charges filed against Singer originated from a DCFS hotline report in June, not the one in January.
I also received a copy of a letter from DCFS dated June 12, 2018—the day before Williams filed his report. The letter concerned MacDonald’s January 9, 2018, report concerning Singer and said the case was dismissed because “the department has voluntarily unfounded the report.”
Harvest’s Timeline Prompts More Questions
Williams began releasing some of this information on social media last week. Then on Thursday, Harvest published an answer to questions about communication of Singer’s termination from staff, as well as a timeline of events.
In these publications, Harvest admits that it failed to properly notify parents on all of its campuses when it terminated Singer on January 7, 2018. The church added that it has changed its policy to require notification of congregants on all campuses whenever an “employee or volunteer is terminated due to a violation of the Child Protection Policy.”
In October, Harvest published a statement, alleging that parents on “multiple campuses” were informed of Singer’s termination when it happened. Yet the letter Harvest posted to its website that Landon MacDonald had sent to parents on January 7, 2018, was addressed to “Harvest Rolling Meadows Parents.” (Rolling Meadows is one of Harvest’s seven Chicago-area campuses.)
“Harvest admits that it failed to properly notify parents on all of its campuses . . . The church added that it has changed its policy to require notification of congregants on all campuses whenever an ’employee or volunteer is terminated due to a violation of the Child Protection Policy.’”
Harvest said MacDonald also reported another alleged inappropriate texting relationship between Singer and a second student on January 16, 2018. I called MacDonald to ask him why DCFS reportedly has no record of this report. MacDonald answered and said, “No comment.”
According to the timeline, Steiner became aware of yet another student on January 31, 2018. That’s when the father of a third student reportedly met with Steiner and reported concerns about some alleged inappropriate texts between Singer and his son. Harvest says Steiner reported this third incident to DCFS the same day, and then called DCFS on June 29, 2018, to follow up.
The timeline claims that the DCFS letter citing a report date of June 13, 2018—the day Williams filed his report—is a mistake. In October, Steiner sent a letter to DCFS requesting that the agency change the report date to January 31, 2018. Harvest Lead Ministry Pastor Greg Bradshaw said DCFS has not responded to Steiner’s request.
Harvest’s recent timeline conflicts with an earlier statement the church made on October 23, 2018. The October statement said that Harvest concluded all its reports concerning Singer the third week of January. It states, “Further contact between our staff and DCFS beyond that time period were follow-up related and did not involve any new incidents.” January 31, 2018, is in the fifth week of January. I asked Bradshaw about the discrepancy, and he responded, “No explanation. I wasn’t involved in that statement.”
Also, during a conference call between Bradshaw, Steiner, and me, Bradshaw said that Harvest’s phone records show that only one call was placed with DCFS on January 31, 2018. He said that call was made at 12:35 p.m.
“MacDonald instructs Steiner to call the general DCFS number. Steiner responds, ‘Called to report; DCFS has my number, will call me back. They are backlogged with call backs from Monday.’”
In the text thread, MacDonald says that someone needs to call DCFS and report the incident involving a new student. Steiner responds, “I can call. Is there a file or contact at DCFS?” MacDonald instructs Steiner to call the general DCFS number. Steiner responds, “Called to report; DCFS has my number, will call me back. They are backlogged with call backs from Monday.”
When I asked Steiner about the text thread, Steiner asserted that the time stamp on the text thread must be wrong. Steiner said only the last text, saying he had called to report to DCFS, was made after the 12:35 p.m. All the prior texts must have been made before 12:35 p.m.
I asked Steiner if he had a record of the text thread on his cell phone. Steiner said his phone regularly deletes texts, so he didn’t have any record of the conversation.
However, Steiner asserted that when he called DCFS on January 31, he told the DCFS operator Singer’s name and the student’s name. Steiner said he didn’t recall if he gave contact information for the student or his parent. Steiner said DCFS took his phone number and said they would call back. Steiner said he doesn’t remember if he got a return call. Steiner added that he didn’t know there was an additional step he needed to take to file a report.
“Williams said he’s made at least five reports to the Illinois DCFS hotline and it’s always required a two-step process. He said when he first calls, he always gets put on hold for several minutes. Then an operator answers the call, asks for his name and number, and says someone will return his call.”
Williams said he gave all this information to Tommy Creutz, lead pastor of student and children’s ministry and a member of Harvest’s Church Leadership Team, before Harvest published its timeline. I called Creutz for comment, but he did not respond.
Williams said he also reported Milholland, Nudo, and Steiner to the Kane County Children’s Advocacy Center for allegedly failing to report child abuse or suppressing others from doing so. Williams said Investigator Beth Mullarkey referred him to the Aurora Police Department. Williams said when he called the Aurora Police Department, they referred him back to the Children’s Advocacy Center. Williams said he’s called each department several times but keeps getting referred elsewhere.
I talked to Mullarkey and she said she could not comment. I also called the Aurora Police Department, but the person I spoke with said he didn’t have any information about a report from Williams. He said he would look into the matter further and call me back, but I have not yet heard from him.
Williams also reported Nudo to the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) of the Supreme Court of Illinois. Williams received a return letter from the ARDC on March 21, 2019, saying that the organization will request a response from Nudo and then determine whether further investigation is warranted.
Background Information: In October 2018, I was working with former Chicago Tribune Reporter Matt Walberg to report the Paxton Singer story. On October 17, 2018—the day Singer was charged—Harvest filed a lawsuit against me and four other defendants, which has since been dropped. This lawsuit included an Emergency Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order, which was denied by the court. As a result of the lawsuit, the Tribune dropped me from the story.
*Featured picture is of Rob Williams.
Update: After this story published, Harvest Attorney Chris Nudo called me to offer his perspective. He said he had wanted to speak with me earlier. But Harvest Lead Ministry Pastor Greg Bradshaw told him not to speak with me, but instead to send his comments to Bradshaw and Bradshaw would pass the information to me.
Bradshaw didn’t share information with me concerning Nudo. Our conference call with Craig Steiner focused on whether Steiner had reported properly to DCFS.
Nudo said he also sent an email to Harvest’s Central Leadership Team (CLT) and a couple of elders suggesting that they bring Williams into the office and hear what he has to say. But Nudo said CLT and elders didn’t want to do that.
Nudo confirmed to me that a meeting between himself, Milholland, and Williams took place in Rob Williams’ office on February 1, 2018. Nudo said Milholland’s claim that he didn’t deal with “staff level” employees is “complete BS. That’s all Scott did was deal with people, and everybody and at every level.”
However, Nudo said he doesn’t recall Milholland mentioning anything about Singer during the meeting. “It was dealing with something else that was inconsequential,” Nudo said. When I asked Nudo what Milholland and Williams discussed, he said, “I can’t tell you because I don’t know. I was standing right there. I was clearing email on my phone and I was not part of the meeting.” Nudo added that he didn’t hear anything in the conversation that stood out as memorable.
I told Williams what Nudo said about the meeting and he replied that Nudo did not have his phone out. Williams said several times during the meeting, he looked Nudo in the face and asked, “Aren’t you going to say anything?” Williams said Nudo stayed silent and just nodded.
Nudo also disputes that he ever said he’s “90-percent sure” that Harvest needed to report allegations concerning Singer to police. “That statement is insane,” Nudo said. “If I was 50-percent sure, I would call police.”
Nudo said he told Williams that since Harvest had filed a report with the DCFS, that should be sufficient. Nudo noted that the incidents concerned only text messages with students, not physical contact.
Lastly, Nudo addressed the letter he sent to Williams in October, threatening him with “legal recourse” if Williams did not abide by his non-disclosure, non-disparagement agreement with Harvest. Nudo said he sent the letter because Milholland told him that Williams had released confidential counseling information regarding Singer on his Facebook page. Nudo said he didn’t see any posts by Williams, but was acting on information Milholland gave him.
Williams said he didn’t post anything confidential on his Facebook page prior to receiving the letter. He said he merely posted a podcast and some articles critical of Harvest that other people had written.
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