Civil Lawsuits Filed Against Ignite Life Center & Fl Multicultural District Council of the Assemblies of God

Civil Lawsuits Filed Against Ignite Life Center & Fl Multicultural District Council of the Assemblies of God
(Left) Mariano Rivera standing next to ILC head pastor's son Christian Vargas who is facing charges for committing sex crimes against children. (Right) Mariano Rivera receiving the presidential medal of freedom from former President Donald Trump.

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

ORLANDO, Fla. On Wednesday, 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) & Ignite Life Center (ILC) regarding sexual abuses committed by Gabriel Hemenez. 

ILC is a district-affiliated church of the Assemblies of God, with FMDAG overseeing ILC in matters of employee training & sexual abuse prevention.

Hemenez was originally arrested on July 6th last year after he told Gainesville Police Department (GPD) detectives that he had inappropriately touched three minors and one adult.  

Last week, 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 state penitentiary, followed by 8 years of probation. 

All plaintiffs attended the ILC Summer Internship Program. The program is operated by ILC in Gainesville; however, it brings in children from affiliated churches around the country, including Arizona, New Jersey, and in Plaintiff 2’s case, New York.

The lawsuits detail how the plaintiffs, along with other program attendees, were required to surrender all personal communication devices, sleep in a dormitory room with counselors, which included Hemenez, and that Hemenez had permission from the church to engage in non-sexual touching. 

This was “included, but was not limited to, ‘laying hands’ on [plaintiffs] during prayer and counseling,” the lawsuits stated.  

Hemenez took advantage of his authorized touching and the dormitory situation in order to commit sexual abuse against children. 

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. 

Following Hemenez’s arrest, pastor and public relations manager of ILC Nicole Gomez said that that ILC was participating in the “healing journey” of the plaintiffs; however, all the lawsuits detail how ILC attempted to silence them after they reported the sexual abuses Hemenez committed against them.

ILC allowed Hemenez to remain as a caretaker of children despite him having reported sexual abuses before, during, and after he sexually abused the plaintiffs, disputing Vega's claims that Hemenez’s crimes weren't known to ILC. 

The lawsuits state police records show that Hemenez was accused of sexually assaulting another church member in 2019 during a church event. The victim told ILC leadership, including, senior pastor Mark Vega, pastor Esther Omeben, and assistant pastor Nicholas Bruce.  

The lawsuits establish modus operandi, i.e., mode of operation, mentioning yet another alleged sexual abuse in which a minor child was repeatedly sexually assaulted by an older teenager living in the dormitories. 

Additionally, pastor Bruce told GPD that he became aware of Hemenez’s alleged sexual abuses in September 2022. Hemenez left ILC in November 2022, voluntarily and on good terms with ILC administrators, showing they allowed Hemenez to interact with minors for months despite being told by minors that Hemenez was engaging in sexual abuse against them.

These wouldn’t be the only times the administrators at ILC have attempted to handle reported sexual abuses internally. A GPD supplemental report shows Vega and associate pastor Jose Cruz wanted to take the law into their own hands after it was reported that their sons were repeatedly engaging in statutory rape on church grounds. 

Noel Cruz was arrested and charged with sexual battery on February 19th for these incidents. Vega’s son Christian 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. 

All civil suits brought forward state ILC attempted to silence the plaintiffs when they told church leaders about the sexual abuses Hemenez committed against them; however, based on the details of each suit, Plaintiff 1, Plaintiff 2, and Plaintiff 3 may have individual circumstances regarding their relationship with ILC and how ILC attempted to cover for Hemenez. 

Plaintiff 2 was originally from New York and was raised in the Assemblies of God Fellowship, going to Refuge of Hope Church, which was operated by former Yankees pitcher and 5-time world series champion Mariano Rivera and his wife, Pastor Clara Rivera. Vega, being the former chaplain for the Yankees during Mariano Rivera’s time as a player, regularly attended his church and would serve as a guest pastor. 

The lawsuit details how Mariano Rivera and Vega weren’t just friends but also business partners who made money off of New York families and innocent children, stating, “ILC and Refuge of Hope had a longstanding business relationship and/or enterprise in which children from the New York church were sent to the ILC summer internship as a means of generating income for ILC... ILC collected a substantial fee from parents of those attending the Summer Internship, including the Plaintiff's family, and otherwise profited from children from the New York church attending the ILC summer program in Florida.”

Vega used his leadership position as a means to advertise ILC’s summer internship and as a means to convince Plaintiff 2’s mother to allow him to attend the program.  

In Plaintiff 1’s case, he reported the sexual abuse to pastors Vega and Bruce in October 2022, a month before Hemenez left the church. Over the proceeding months, Vega and Bruce repeatedly lied to Plaintiff 1, saying that GPD was investigating reports. 

In February 2023, Plaintiff 1 learned that he had been lied to after he told his friend about Hemenez’s sexual abuse and learned that his friend had been sexually abused as well, along with two other boys. Plaintiff 1 proceeded to call GPD and ask why the investigation was taking so long, and they told him there wasn’t an investigation because ILC never informed them of any incidents. 

Plaintiff 1’s lawsuit also details a level of personal harassment, stating, “He continues to experience threatening, retaliatory, and harassing behavior by defendant's agents for participating in Hemenez’s criminal proceedings.”

Plaintiff 3’s lawsuit does not state details relating to their personal background, likely due to their minor status; however, the lawsuits show that Plaintiff 3 was failed by ILC in a similar capacity in which ILC failed Plaintiff 1 and Plaintiff 2. 

All plaintiffs are demanding a jury trial. 

Jessica Arbour, who is representing the plaintiffs in all three suits, thanked them for coming forward in her press release, saying, "I applaud these brave young men for coming forward to break the silence on their experience and for living their biblical teachings: what is done in the dark will always come to light."

The press release said that these are the first of several lawsuits Horowitz Law plans to file against ILC and FMDAG.

Despite the assistant principal of St. Patrick Interparish Catholic school being arrested for attempting to handle reported sexual abuses internally, no reports suggest administrators at ILC have been detained or questioned by authorities after committing the same crime. 

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