GASTONIA, N.C. - A Gaston County pastor was in federal court Friday, facing charges of molesting underage girls in Haiti.
Larry Bollinger was sentenced to 25 years in prison after he admitted molesting underage girls while he was a missionary in Haiti.
Bollinger has been in jail since he was arrested a year and a half ago, and it was almost a year ago that he pleaded guilty to the charges of molesting 11-year-old girls in Haiti.
In court Friday he told the judge that he is a sex addict and that his problems began when he became too interested in pornography while he was a pastor at several different churches in the U.S.
He described in detail how he had patronized adult bookstores and prostitutes one place after the other. He said that two years after he moved to Haiti 11-year-old girls made themselves available and he took advantage of them.
He began to tear up as he said, "I crossed boundaries I never imagined I would have crossed. I'm very embarrassed that I let myself slip to those depths, but I did."
Bollinger was arrested after he admitted what he had done to a therapist in Texas. About two dozen people were in the courtroom to support Bollinger, who was a pastor in Gaston County before he was arrested.
In a tearful statement before he was sentenced, Bollinger told Judge Robert Conrad that the last thing he wanted to do was cause more pain to anyone.
"I hurt those girls, I hurt my wife, I betrayed my God," Bollinger said. He said he couldn't stand the thought of spending the rest of his life in prison and asked the judge to consider a sentence that would allow him to help others with sex addictions.
"I hope that I can be given the opportunity to reach out to others who are suffering," he said.
Prosecutor Kimlani Ford called Bollinger a predator who had hid a dark side for 25 years and didn't appear to be sorry for the girls he'd molested.
Conrad said it was a unique case, and he acknowledged that Bollinger had come forward and told a therapist about his crimes and had been faithfully going to treatment since.
But he also called Bollinger's behavior self-absorbed and destructive, and sentenced him to 25 years—effectively a life sentence.
"I think it's a sentence that will show sex offenders that they can't escape American justice just by going to a foreign country and molesting children there," Ford said after the hearing.
Bollinger's attorney, Tony Scheer, said he was devastated by the sentence, and he said the judge missed an opportunity to send a message to sex offenders like Bollingers who may want to come forward.
"There would be no prosecution without his confession. It's a missed opportunity to say to people to come out of that shadows, get help even if it leads to prosecution, there's a different fate for you, and I think it's a missed opportunity to say that loud and clear." Scheer said.
Bollinger's wife and more than 20 friends attended the hearing but left without comment.
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