A minister at one of Texas' largest megachurches was arrested this week after driving his wife's car 200 miles for a planned liaison with a 13-year-old girl he met on the Internet.
Greeting Rev. Joe Barron, minister to married adults at the 26,000-member Prestonwood Baptist Church, near Dallas, when he arrived Thursday, with a package of condoms on the car seat, were members of the Bryan, Texas, police force.
Bryan police said Barron had been chatting online for about two weeks with an officer who he thought was a 13-year-old girl, participating in sexually explicit conversations.
On Tuesday, Barron asked the girl to skip school and meet him, police told the Dallas Morning News.
"Of course, our officers replied that they would," Officer Lesley Malinak, spokeswoman for the Bryan Police Department, said. "He had been on a business trip and was coming to see her after he was done with this business trip."
On Thursday, he drove three hours to meet the girl at a parking lot and chatted with "her" by telephone along the way. He was arrested without incident.
Police found a box of 10 condemns inside the car, a Web camera and a headset police believe he was planning to give the girl.
"It is common for people that are engaged in this type of activity" to give gifts to the minors that "they are grooming," said Malinak.
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Police are investigating evidence Barron may have had similar online conversations with more than a dozen minor girls. A desktop computer, two laptops, numerous computer disks and memory cards have been seized.
"Going through the computer equipment will be very telling," Malinak said.
Police also were given access to Barron's church computer but it was not seized because church officials said software installed on it prevented users from entering a chatroom. They said they would be checking its contents to be certain "there's no inappropriate material" on it.
Police discovered Barron was a minister during questioning.
"He said he was feeling guilt and shame and grief," said Malinik.
Barron is the 12th man arrested since November 2006 in Byran's sting operation. "This is the first person that is this prominent that we've arrested," Malinik said.
Barron is one of about 40 ministers at the megachurch. He has served as senior pastor and minister of education in other Texas Baptist churches.
"We are disturbed and saddened by the reports we have heard and we are praying for the Barron family," said Mike Buster, executive pastor at Prestonwood. "We are fully cooperating with the police in their investigation."
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