An evangelist who founded the Freedom in Worship Church is no longer free, a judged ruled Wednesday.
Emiliano Patino, 40, of Fort Worth was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 10 years of probation for sexually abusing two teenage sisters nearly 18 years ago when he was 23.
Patino’s sentences will run concurrently, state District Judge George Gallagher ruled. Patino must serve at least five years before he becomes eligible for parole, and if he is released before serving the full 10 years, he will be on probation for the remainder of his sentence, prosecutor Eric Nickols said.
“We’re very pleased with the sentence,” Nickols said after the verdict. “Child sexual abuse is a serious crime deserving of prison time no matter how long ago it occurred.”
Patino pleaded guilty in November to two counts of sexual assault of a child under 17 and elected to have Gallagher assess his sentence. According to prosecutors, the victims were 13 and 15 at the time of the offenses.
I’m not a bad person at all, Emiliano Patino, preacher serving 10 years for sexually assaulting girl, 15
Patino, who was not an ordained minister, started the Freedom in Worship church in 2004. The church served an eclectic mix of members including the homeless, recovering drug addicts, business owners and the spiritually lost and broken, members of the church told Gallagher.
The movable church was once located at Unity Park, 1401 E. Presidio St., but is now at an undisclosed location, one member said.
Many members who came to be character witnesses this week — at least 12 including Patino’s wife — wept openly as the sentence was read. His members called him Bishop Lano.
“I believe the reward I received came from trusting God,” Guillermo Gallindo testified. “But I could not have gotten there myself. The direction came from Bishop Lano. He’s the most genuine, selfless person that I’ve ever known in my entire life.”
Patino is a former roommate of Geronimo Aguilar, a music minister at a Fort Worth church who later moved to Virginia and formed the Richmond Outreach Center (known as ROC), which grew into a church that claimed more than 10,000 members. Aguilar was fired as senior pastor there in 2013.
In October, Aguilar was convicted of sexually assaulting the same sisters and sentenced to 40 years in prison. He is housed in the Tulia prison unit. His first chance at a parole hearing is June 15, 2035.
Patino began dating the older sister after Aguilar left Fort Worth in 2001.
Patino admitted to the judge that he had sex with her and fathered a child. Patino told his church members that he had formed a serious relationship with the girl.
But after pleading guilty to sexually abusing both sisters, Patino wavered about admitting that he had sex with the younger girl. Gallagher told Patino that if he abandoned his guilty plea, his case would be placed back on the docket and he would face a maximum 99-year prison sentence.
I knew some guys in college who dated girls in their teens, Julie Thomas, church member
Church members testified that they did not believe that Patino molested the younger girl, suggesting that he admitted guilt to lessen any prison time he might have to serve.
“I knew some guys in college who dated girls in their teens,” said Julie Thomas, 34. “They were in a relationship and they thought it was OK and I think it’s unfortunate that now people get prosecuted for it.”
After the verdict was read, Jim Shaw, Patino’s attorney, said that technically any 15-year-old girl who has sex is a victim of sexual assault. Had it not been for the Aguilar trial, the Patino case never would have happened, Shaw said.
“I hoped for probation because it was warranted,” Shaw said. “I thought that the ends of justice and the best interest of society were served by probation.”
The Star-Telegram has not named the sisters because it does not usually identify accusers in sexual assault cases.
During an interview with a detective for the Tarrant County district attorney’s office, Patino expressed confusion about why he was being questioned. Nearly 18 years had passed before authorities questioned him regarding the relationship, Patino said on a tape recording that was played for the court.
“I don’t understand,” Patino said. “I’m not a bad person at all.”
Nickols also presented evidence that Patino duped church members into believing that he had cancer when there is no evidence of the disease, so as to dupe them into helping him financially.
But church members testified that they did not believe that.
“The idea that he’s using cancer for his own financial gain is just nuts,” said Joshua Hernandez, a church board member. “We’ve seen him scrape by on just a bare-bones budget. We are constantly amazed at how he does it. I’ve personally had this man cough up stuff that feels like tissue paper on my arm. Anyone who acts that well needs to be invited to the Oscars.”
Patino’s “manipulation of these young sisters along with the fraud he perpetrated on his congregation by faking dying of cancer for years has placed him where he belongs — behind bars,” Nickols said.