Fayette County

Detective: Church worker used his position to pressure 16-year-old into sex

Tony Sasnett, right, and his attorney Dan Carman appeared at a preliminary hearing Tuesday, Feburary 23, 2016
Tony Sasnett, right, and his attorney Dan Carman appeared at a preliminary hearing Tuesday, Feburary 23, 2016 mmckay@herald-leader.com

The church worker charged with the rape of a 16-year-old met his alleged victim when she was 10 and warned her that she would be banned from mission trips if she told anyone about their activities, a Lexington police detective testified Tuesday.

Tony Sasnett, 39, was the home Bible study director for Greater Faith Apostolic Church on Clays Mill Road in Lexington. As a result of his church role, police and the prosecution argued, Sasnett was in a position of “special trust” with the victim, but his attorney, Dan Carman, disputed that contention at Tuesday’s preliminary hearing before Fayette District Judge Kim Wilkie.

Sasnett is charged with four counts of third-degree rape, one count of sexual abuse and one count of using a phone to solicit nude photos of a minor. He originally was charged with five counts of rape, but one charge was dismissed at Tuesday’s hearing because the alleged crime was in neighboring Jessamine County.

Sasnett is no longer employed by the church, its pastor confirmed Wednesday.

William McGraw, pastor of the church, said in an email, “Tony Sasnett is no longer a part-time employee with our church. He never was a pastor.” McGraw did not immediately return a request for further comment Wednesday.

In testimony, detective Tyler Smith with the Crimes Against Children Unit described how the father of three school-aged children escalated the relationship with the victim from a joke about a massage to sex in parked cars and in Sasnett’s home.

The sexual abuse charge came from an August car encounter that didn’t result in sex. When the pair met in a parking lot in October, Sasnett initiated sex by telling her, “I’m in charge now,” Smith testified.

Smith said texts preserved by the victim in photo screen shots showed conversations between the two about past sexual encounters, Sasnett’s desires, the nature of sin, and repeated attempts by the victim to end the relationship.

In one thread, Smith said, the victim asked why Sasnett wanted to have a sexual relationship with her when he was a married man. Sasnett replied, “I don’t know,” Smith said. Sasnett’s wife was in the courtroom Tuesday.

At one point during their relationship, Sasnett told the teen to delete all phone photos and messages and send him proof when completed. Sasnett promised to delete texts but said he would keep photos on his phone.

In another thread, the teen was warned via text that there would be repercussions if she told of their encounters, the detective said. Sasnett told her she wouldn’t be able to attend the church.

“He told her if she told his wife, she would not be able to attend mission trips,” Smith said.

Carman unsuccessfully argued that Sasnett wasn’t in a position of trust with the girl, a key distinction necessary for the charges to stand.

Sasnett was licensed as a pastor in the Apostolic church, and police found three videos of sermons Sasnett delivered at the church in addition to his role as home Bible study director, Smith testified.

The church’s website listed Sasnett as the home Bible study director, but his name was removed after he was arraigned. The church did not return calls about Sasnett on Tuesday.

Carman said that Sasnett wasn’t a pastor or youth minister of the church and was a full-time employee elsewhere. He argued that Sasnett gave a limited number of guest sermons.

“He may have helped other things at the church. ... That’s how churches run,” Carman said. “But there was no position of special trust.”

Outside of the special trust, Carman argued that the victim’s age, 16, should be considered.

“I’m not saying ‘OK,’ it would’ve been legal,” Carman said.

But in his ruling, Wilkie said the court couldn’t divorce the special trust from the crimes.

“If not for this association, it may never have occurred,” Wilkie said.

Wilkie sent the case to a grand jury to review the charges. Bond for Sasnett remained $10,000. He was in the Fayette County jail Tuesday.