Associate Pastor’s Son Arrested at Ignite Life Center

Associate Pastor’s Son Arrested at Ignite Life Center
Noel Cruz's booking information

Update 02/24: A GPD supplemental report shows Pastors Mark Vega and Jose Cruz wanted to handle their son's alleged sexual abuses internally.

Update 02/20: Mistakenly reported that Noel Cruz had a previous sexual battery and kidnapping charge in 2016 due to the perpetrator having the same name and also being from Alachua County.

On February 19th, 2024, at 8:23 am, the Associate Pastor at Ignite Life Center Jose Cruz's son, Noel Cruz, was arrested and charged with lewd or lascivious battery against a person under 16 years old. An anonymous tipper offered direct evidence of their relationship. 

Noel Cruz allegedly committed the sexual battery on August 1st, 2021, 111 days after this picture was taken.

This is the third person to be arrested for committing sex crimes against children at Ignite Life Center. Last July, a former church employee, Gabriel Hemenez, was arrested and charged with two counts of lewd or lascivious molestation and one count of attempted sexual battery against a minor. 

Two weeks later, Senior Pastor Mark Vegas’s son, Christian Vargas, was arrested and charged with lewd or lascivious battery against a person under 16 and lewd or lascivious conduct by a person 18 years of age or older. 

The anonymous tipper made a statement accusing the executive team at Ignite Life Center of failing to report these incidents when they learned about them.  

“During a meeting, the senior pastors, Mark and Lisa Vega, their son Christian, along with the associate pastor Jose Cruz, his son Noel, and the victim were present. Other individuals aware of the situation include Esther Omeben and public relations manager Nicole Gomez, who are not only part of the executive pastor's team but also serve as center directors at Urban Strategies, the federal program located at Ignite Life Center, along with Nick Bruce and other pastoral staff.
During the meeting, they were informed about the actions of both perpetrators, Noel Cruz and Christian Vargas. Instead of reporting these incidents as mandated by the prevention of sexual abuse training that they took, they decided it was best to handle them internally. This situation parallels what happened in the Gabriel case, where similar incidents were handled internally, leading one of the victims to eventually speak out. 
The victim that Noel is being charged for is also one of Christian’s victims, but not for any of the current charges that Christian has right now. My understanding is that because of the Romeo and Juliet laws, they were too close in age, so no charges were pressed, but the meeting involved the victim with both Noel and Christian.
I know that they knew about it and didn’t do anything, and they also encouraged it to stay internally. I don’t know where their sons would have learned the behavior from, but it’s weird that the pastors are okay with keeping these things private. Especially since everyone had to take the prevention of sexual abuse training that mandated us to report such activities.”

Noel Cruz’s bond has been set at $150,000. Vargas was previously released after posting $40,000 bail. Hemenez's bond was not paid, as it was set at $3 million. 

All the defendants from Ignite Life Center have their trials proceeding in March. Cruz will have his plea in front of a judge on March 12th. Hemenez has a scheduled change of plea on March 6th; he previously pleaded not guilty. Vargas has a case management hearing scheduled for March 4th. 

Jack Walden

Jack Walden

Jack Walden is the creator of Gnvinfo and a 2nd year journalism major at Santa Fe College. From general information, to exposing falsehoods and corruption, Jack seeks to deliver the truth.
Gainesville, FL