Bail set at $1.5 million for sect leader charged with abuse

This June 18, 2016, booking photo provided by the Pine County Jail in Minnesota shows Victor Barnard. On Monday, June 20, 2016, a judge set bail for Barnard, a religious sect leader who is charged with sexually abusing girls at a secluded compound in rural Minnesota. (Pine County Jail via AP)

PINE CITY, Minn. (AP) — A judge set bail at $1.5 million Monday for a religious sect leader who’s charged with sexually abusing girls at a secluded compound in rural Minnesota.

Victor Barnard, 54, made his first state court appearance since his extradition from Brazil. U.S. marshals delivered him to the Pine County Jail on Saturday.

Pine County prosecutors charged Barnard in April 2014 with 59 counts of criminal sexual conduct for allegedly having sexual relationships with two girls in his “Maidens Group” at his River Road Fellowship compound near Finlayson, about 90 miles north of Minneapolis.

The U.S. Marshals Service put him on its most wanted fugitives list, and authorities finally caught up with him in a Brazilian resort town in February 2015. Brazilian authorities said he had arrived in Brazil in March 2012.

Barnard looked haggard, thin and pale during the brief hearing as attorneys argued over the conditions of his bail.

Pine County Attorney Reese Frederickson argued for bail as high as $7 million, saying he’d received reports that Barnard’s remaining followers were liquidating assets to try to free him. He said Barnard remains a flight risk.

But defense attorney Dave Risk said his client had already spent more than a year in prison in Brazil and had agreed to extradition. He said the prison stay “took quite a toll on him. . His health has diminished significantly as a result.”

Judge James Router set bail at $1.5 million with conditions including Barnard’s having no contact with the two women he allegedly abused starting when they were girls, surrendering his passport and being monitored by GPS. Barnard could also go free with no conditions if he posts $3 million.

According to the criminal complaint, the two women told investigators they were among about 10 girls and young women who were chosen to live apart from their families in what was called the Shepherd’s Camp. One alleged Barnard started abusing her when she was 13, continuing until she was 22. The other said she was abused between ages 12 and 20.

Investigators have said Barnard used religious coercion and intimidation to maintain his control over them. They’ve also said they believe Barnard abused other girls but were unable to get others to come forward.

Most of the counts against Barnard carry maximum sentences of 30 years in prison.

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