Civil Lawsuits Against Ignite Life Center Press Forward As Pastor’s Sons Face Sexual Abuse Charges

Civil Lawsuits Against Ignite Life Center Press Forward As Pastor’s Sons Face Sexual Abuse Charges
Ignite Life Center head pastor Mark Vega standing next to former GPD Chief Lonnie Scott

Editors Notes: All Plaintiffs are anonymous and will be referred to as Plaintiff 1, Plaintiff 2, and Plaintiff 3. 

On March 13, Fort Lauderdale-based firm Horowitz Law announced in a press release that three civil lawsuits have been filed against the Orlando, FL-based Multicultural District Council of the Assemblies of God (FMDAG) and Ignite Life Center (ILC) regarding sexual abuses committed by former ILC volunteer and employee Gabriel Hemenez. 

On March 6, Hemenez was found guilty of two felony counts of molestation against a victim between the ages of 12 and 16, in addition to a misdemeanor count of battery. He was originally facing 31 years in prison; however, he was offered a plea deal and sentenced to 5 years in a state penitentiary, followed by 8 years of probation.

All three plaintiffs are suing ILC and FMDAG for negligence and vicarious liability. Plaintiff 1 is additionally, and as of now, the only plaintiff suing ILC for fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress. 

On April 8 ILC filed to dismiss all counts submitted against them except for each Plaintiff's motion of negligence. 

ILC claimed Hemenez was not acting in the scope of ILC’s agency when committing the sexual abuses at the summer internship and that the claim was supported by the Plaintiffs' own accusations. This is despite Plaintiff 1’s motion of vicarious liability against ILC stating, "Hemenez was authorized to build a close relationship with and take on the role of spiritual mentor and counselor to [Plaintiff 1], to be alone with [Plaintiff 1], and other minors in the course of ILC’s business activities, and to have unlimited contact with minor children for the purpose of furthering the goals and mission of ILC.” 

On May 8, FMDAG joined ILC in their dismissal motions, filing to dismiss the counts of negligence and vicarious liability submitted against them, leaving ILC’s counts for negligence as the only motions for which a dismissal hasn’t been filed. 

FMDAG alleged that Hemenez was not an appointee or affiliate of FMDAG; therefore, the vicarious liability counts must be dismissed. The lawsuits disagree, stating ILC is subject to the “authority and oversight” of FMDAG “on certain matters, including: (1) developing and enforcing sexual abuse prevention policies and procedures; (2) training, supervising, and evaluating employees for fitness, including, but not limited to, Mark Vega and the other pastors of ILC responsible for protecting children; and (3) operating a summer camp such as the Ignite Summer Internship.”

The Assemblies of God website states, "Districts oversee the ministries in their areas, such as camps and outreaches....Districts also recommend ministers for national credentialing. They are authorized to lead, solving matters of leadership and direction for local assemblies. They operate as a type of regional leadership between the local church and the national Fellowship."

FMDAG additionally alleged that ILC is not a district-affiliated church of FMDAG; therefore, the negligence counts must be dismissed. ILC is listed under the Florida Multicultural District on the church directory on the Assemblies of God website.

Photo taken from Assemblies of God website

Within the past two weeks, the plaintiffs have submitted settlement proposals to ILC and FMDAG. Attorney at Law Jessica Arbor, who is representing the plaintiffs, said she is not at liberty to disclose what the monetary amounts are. She said that there are plans to file more lawsuits against the church. 

As the civil suits move forward, head pastor Mark Vega’s son, Christian Vargas, and associate pastor Jose Cruz’s son, Noel Cruz, will both be facing case management hearings in the coming weeks. 

Pictured on left - head pastor Mark Vega. | Pictured on right - associate pastor Jose Cruz
Pictured on left - Christian Vargas | Pictured on right - Noel Cruz

During July 2021, 17-year-old Vargas began having sex with a 15-year-old girl. One month later, 20-year-old Noel Cruz began having sex with the same girl. A Gainesville Police Department (GPD) Supplemental Report shows Vega and Jose Cruz tried to handle these incidents internally. 

Noel Cruz was arrested and charged with sexual battery on February 19th for the aforementioned abuses. Vargas is not being charged for this due to Romeo and Juliet laws; however, he is awaiting trial on two charges for allegedly raping a 12- to 13-year-old girl when he was 16, as well as making unwanted sexual advances towards a 14-year-old girl when he was 17 and 18. 

Vega and Jose Cruz reportedly did not receive resistance from other Ignite leadership members in their coverup. Anonymous whistleblowers from ILC who’ve come forward have regarded Vega as having an unquestionable level of authority over the other leadership members and his congregation.

Vargas’ case management hearing is scheduled for June 17, while Noel Cruz’s is scheduled for July 9.

Notably, Vargas has been pictured next to 5-time world series champion and former Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera.

Vargas standing next to Mariano Rivera. (Originally posted on Mariano Rivera Foundation Facebook Page)

Rivera is mentioned in one of the aforementioned civil lawsuits because Plaintiff 2 was a member of his church in New York. Vega was associated with Rivera's church, leading the Plaintiff to travel from New York to Gainesville for the 2021 Ignite Summer Internship where Hemenez sexually abused him and the other Plaintiffs.

Social media posts show Rivera and Vega have a long-standing friendship dating back to the early 90s. 

In April, Vargas was permitted by Judge William E. Davis to travel to White Plains, NY, alongside his parents. Rivera’s residence is in White Plains, NY. 

Despite the order scheduling Vargas to be in White Plains from April 1–April 10, Vega made a surprise appearance at an ILC sermon on April 7. Vega said, “I’m not supposed to be here. My wife is not supposed to be here.” He then said with air quotes, “We are technically on vacation.”


Vega at April 7 ILC sermon

Vega previously served as the NY Yankees Chaplin, while Rivera played professional baseball. Despite Vega’s longstanding presence in New York City, he has made misogynistic and racist statements aimed at New York mothers, in addition to Black people and Hispanic people. 

On February 10th, 2019, Vega reposted a quote on Instagram, which states, “The most dangerous place for a Black or Hispanic baby to live is the womb of an NY mother.” Vega signed his name to the quote to indicate he originally said it. 

Vega has been preaching in Gainesville and posting on Instagram as if his congregation were not under active legal scrutiny in both criminal and civil courts.

On May 19 Vega held a sermon centered on family-inherited trauma. Vega posted about the event on Instagram.

Vega has held local law enforcement in high regard, previously posting a picture with former GPD Chief Lonnie Scott to his Instagram account on February 25, 2022.

On March 29, Interim GPD Chief Nelson Moya took over Scott’s position, and there haven't been any public announcements relating to ILC from GPD since. Moya hasn't acknowledged ILC or Vega, and it cannot be confirmed if he holds the same level of respect for him as his predecessor.

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