Ignite Life Center Informants Call Out Doug Clay Amid Sex Abuse Coverups at Local Pentecostal Church

Ignite Life Center Informants Call Out Doug Clay Amid Sex Abuse Coverups at Local Pentecostal Church
(Left) Assemblies of God CEO Doug Clay | (Right) Ignite Life Center head pastor Mark Vega

Edited July 15 | Added further clarification on Ignite’s partnership with Urban Strategies.

Two more informants from, or formerly from, the Assemblies of God Pentecostal Church Ignite Life Center (ILC) have anonymously spoken out against sexual abuses being committed and covered up at the church. This makes six total whistleblowers from, or formerly from, ILC who have disclosed their experiences at ILC to GnvInfo.

Between civil lawsuits and criminal cases, ILC head pastor Mark Vega and other ILC administrators are respectively alleged and implicated to have covered up the sexual abuse of minors. 

Three people from ILC have been arrested for committing sexual abuse against minors: (1) former employee and volunteer Gabriel Hemenez; (2) head pastor Mark Vega’s son Christian Vargas; and (3) associate pastor Jose Cruz’s son Noel Cruz.  

As with the previous four whistleblowers, all are anonymous. Both of the whistleblowers’ genders will not be mentioned to further conceal their identities, and they/them pronouns will be used. One of the whistleblowers gave an extensive two-hour in-person interview, while the other sent an anonymous email. To differentiate the whistleblowers, the person who gave the interview will be referred to as Primary Informant while the person who sent the email will be referred to as Secondary Informant. 

The Secondary Informant’s allegations primarily referenced that ILC head pastor Mark Vega is using coercion and connections with the people under him at ILC and the people above him in the Assemblies of God in order to avoid legal consequences for the coverups. They wrote, “Mark and [his wife] Lisa have allowed over 70 people to live with them in an average of ten years. They publicly share this. What they do not share is that they use this method to bribe key, essential leaders who are then brainwashed to think they really have the best intentions for them. Mark and Lisa have gifted expensive things, including cruises, that are not only paid for with their own money but the churches…. Some gifts are money that he raises during service. This is money from hardworking people that he supposedly uses to ‘help people’ but it is to keep them loyal to him. Financial abuse, money misuse, and funds allocated to pay him in cash. A financial report shows proof that Mark receives over $50,000 a year, but he says he does not get an income. It is under stipend and housing expenses.”

The Secondary Informant went on to implicate several individuals, from the CEO of Assemblies of God, Doug Clay, to several of his underlings. “Doug Clay has not appeared after being at ILC a few years ago and endorsing ILC and Mark Vega. Other high-powered leaders from the Florida Multicultural District of the Assemblies of God, such as Abner Adorno, who is superintendent of the district, and assistant superintendent Pedro Marrero, who leads the [Iglesia Casa Del Alfarero] church in Gainesville, have shown support to help the leaders…The people in the church fear to speak because they are all good friends of Mark Vega.”

The Primary Informant corroborated the Secondary Informant’s statements, but said Clay may be being manipulated by Vega. They said that an elder pastor encouraged them to reach out to Clay’s office, and Clay’s administrative assistant got back to them, but the people she directed them to never responded to the Primary Informant. “His assistant directed me to the Florida Multicultural District (FMD) and CC’D them in the same email that I sent to Doug Clay’s Office about the sexual abuse cases, and they never emailed me back. It used to be called the Spanish District, which is what Vega is affiliated with, with hispanic pastors in Orlando and Tampa. Doug Clay’s administrative assistant directed me to those people, and I emailed them, but they never got back to me. The only thing I could think of is that the FMD leaders are helping Mark Vega get out of trouble and downplaying the severity of the situation to Doug Clay. Doug Clay has been a part of the Assemblies of God for decades and knows how the Assemblies of God (AG) takes sexual scandals very seriously in their denomination, notably sexual scandals that include Jim Baker and Jimmy Swaggart in the 1980’s which AG handled swiftly….  The case most likely is that Doug Clay and the other leaders are being coerced into believing Mark is innocent.”

The Florida Multicultural District Council of the Assemblies of God (FMDAG) is a district-affiliated church of ILC and is being sued alongside ILC in a recent set of civil lawsuits that allege that ILC continued to allow Gabriel Hemenez to be in charge of children despite knowing of him committing sexual abuses as early as 2019. 

The civil lawsuits state that FMDAG oversees ILC in matters of employee training and sexual abuse prevention. 

The Primary Informant further detailed the intricacies and complexities of the correlation between FMDAG, ILC, and Assemblies of God as a whole. “Affiliated is the key word. Not registered…. Mark Vega is an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God, but Ignite Life Center is not a church that is registered as part of the Assemblies of God…. For example, if I was an Ordained Assemblies of God Pastor and I wanted to plant a church, I have two options, I can register/plant my church under the Assemblies of God for supervision, accountability and oversight or I can plant my church independently of the Assemblies of God without any supervision, accountability and answer to no one. My credentials as an Ordained Minister will still be under the Assemblies of God and my church would be affiliated, but my church would not be registered under the Assemblies of God denomination…. If Ignite Life Center was a church that is registered under the Assemblies of God, then the Assemblies of God would have every right and would need to step in and remove Mark Vega and take over Ignite because it would be directly under the subdivision of the Florida Multicultural District and the Assemblies of God…. You gotta remember that affiliation and bona fide registration are two different things.”

The Primary Informant went on to detail why they believe FMDAG is the main force behind Vega not facing legal consequences for concealing evidence. “Knowing who Doug Clay is and the personal connection my childhood senior pastor had with him back in the day and trusting my childhood senior pastors' judgment, there is no way Doug Clay is intentionally getting Mark out of it. The Florida Multicultural District is intentionally getting Mark out of it. Remember that Doug Clay is the Superintendent of the entirety of the Assemblies of God. He’s not really associated with the Florida Multicultural District because he’s a part of the caucasian portion of the Assemblies of God, more specifically The Executive Leadership Team. If he was regular AG Pastor in Florida , then he would be a part of the Peninsular Florida District of AG, which is the caucasian district of AG.   I think Mark is coercing Doug into thinking he is innocent, and it's not a big deal. Mark is fooling some of the Penn Florida District Assemblies of God leaders and the Executive Leadership Team (Which Doug Clay is a part of) and making them think it's not a big deal while Florida Multicultural actively tries to get him out of it.”

The Secondary Informant additionally accused Urban Strategies President Lisa Cummins of being complicit in the child sexual abuse coverups. Urban Strategies is a program that partners with churches to house unaccompanied minors, with Ignite Refugio being the facility used. 

The Secondary Informant wrote, “Lisa Cummins and Urban Strategies have paid Lisa Vega and Mark Vega under a program to help unaccompanied minors but have funded them hundreds of thousands of dollars to millions. They have paid pastors and leaders of the church for over five years. Lisa Cummins pays a major portion of the church mortgage and electricity, knowing the foul behavior and corruption of these leaders. My family member said there was manipulation, and no one was approved for hire without the approval of Mark Vega. The program is still funding the church, and the current leader is a pastor at Azael Nunez [Evangelistic Ministries].  How is that?”

Azael Nunez Evangelistic Ministries website bio states, “After being directed by the Holy Spirit in 2017, Azael and Yaneidy moved to Phoenix, Arizona. There, they had the opportunity to start a new branch of Ignite School of Ministry - Phoenix campus.”

Furthermore, a 2015 report from Trac Immigration shows that children were transferred from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to Ignite Urban Strategies.

It was mistakenly reported that Refugio was the detention center from this report, however, further communication with whistleblowers reveals Ignite Refugio, which housed kids on church grounds, began in 2021, and in partnership with Urban Strategies. The Ignite Urban Strategies referenced from this report in 2015 housed children in staff member's homes, with staff members commonly being affiliated with the church. It would appear that sometime between 2015 and 2021 the program disbanded and reopened in the Refugio format.

Ignite Refugio hasn’t received much attention in wider reports about ILC. ILC appears to have numerous programs, many of which involve children. The approximate number of programs formerly or currently run by ILC hasn’t been independently verified. 

The ILC program that has primarily seen the public’s attention is the Ignite School of Ministry, as the Ignite Summer Internship program was run through the Ignite School of Ministry. Former ILC volunteer Gabriel Hemenez is currently sitting in prison for five years due to taking advantage of the Ignite Summer Internship to sexually abuse at least three children and one adult. 

The Ignite Summer Internship appears to have been centered around young kids or teenagers, while the Ignite School of Ministry as a whole appears to serve young adults between the ages of 18 and up until the mid-to-late 20s.  

The Primary Informant said Vega and other administrators at the Ignite School of Ministry publicly expose students’ confessions while simultaneously covering up sexual abuse. “Let's say for example I was found in sexual sin. Mark would tell the whole staff, so the staff would treat you differently and shun you. Somehow, the Ignite School of Ministry students would find out, so there was no such thing as ministerial confidentiality. When he should’ve been confidential about people’s sins, he wasn’t, but when he should’ve broken confidentiality for legal reasons because kids were being molested, he didn’t. He kept that under wraps. Do you know why? Because it would’ve brought a bad reputation to Ignite and Mark’s name. Mark loves man’s approval, and he loves his reputation at Ignite more than he loves God. He loves deceitfulness more than he loves truth. When they came to him about underage sexual molestation, he should’ve automatically reported it to the authorities. This is common knowledge for all people of the cloth.”

Civil lawsuits allege, and a GPD Supplemental Report shows that Vega did not report it to the authorities when child sexual abuse that was disclosed to him and he tried to handle the incidents internally within the church.

The Primary Informant went on to call Vega a false teacher, citing a biblical verse that directly references what he’s doing with ILC. “2 Peter, chapter 2, verses one through three. This is what Peter says to the early church. ‘But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, ’ They will follow sensuality because Mark Vega and most Pentecostal churches promote and cultivate an atmosphere of expectancy and emotion. Things like getting riled up and waiting for the Holy Spirit to move produces sensuality and emotionalism. That’s the mark of a false teacher. That’s what Ignite has done. The verse continues, ‘and because of them the way of the truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.’ I’m not a theologian; I'm a Christian who reads the Bible and studies it. Some of the people there know better, but there is also a spiritual component where  people are deceived. I believe wholeheartedly that Mark, Lisa Vega, and Nicole Gomez know they’re deceiving people and leading people astray. I think they are all deceived to a degree because the Bible says those who are false teachers are deceived themselves (2 Tim 3:13). But deep down, they know what they are doing is false. I believe people like Adolfo Gomez, Esther Ombeon, Eric and Maria Godinez, and Nick Bruce are deceived and believe what they’re doing is God’s work.”

The Secondary Informant corroborated the ongoing civil lawsuits against ILC, writing, “Ignite School of Ministry Director Esther Omeben was told Gabriel Hemenez sexually abused a student in 2019, and she never reported to authorities after receiving guidance and direction from Mark Vega to keep everything in secret and in house.” 

The civil lawsuits against ILC and FMDAG state “According to police records, in 2019, Hemenez was accused of sexually assaulting another church member at Defendant's event. The victim immediately reported the incident to ILC leadership, including but not limited to: Head Pastor Mark Vega, Pastor Esther Omeeven, Pastor Nicholas Bruce, and Pastor Ramaday Velasquez. Hemenez admitted to assaulting the victim when confronted by ILC leadership in 2019 and again when asked about the incident by police in 2023.”

Besides Velasquez, all the aforementioned individuals are under Vega as pastors and leaders at ILC. Velasquez doesn’t appear to be currently employed as a pastor at ILC, as he is not listed on their webpage. 

Additionally, Jose Cruz, who was employed as an associate pastor was reportedly let go or left shortly after his son, Noel Cruz, was arrested for repeatedly committing statutory rape against a minor child at ILC. Jose Cruz is no longer listed as a pastor on ILC's website, indicating he isn’t employed with them in an official capacity. 

The following is an organizational chart of the administrators and arrestees at ILC:

The Secondary Informant additionally alleged psychological and emotional abuse being committed by Mark Vega, attesting to statements made by several former Ignite School of Ministry students. “Mark Vega has power because the other pastors and leaders who support him fear him as well. Mark is a narcissistic individual who is smart and cunning but highly insecure. He's so insecure that he belittles his leaders under him at ILC. These are volunteers who were countless times seen crying in the hallways after meetings with Mark Vega, where he emotionally and spiritually abused them. His wife, Lisa Vega, even though she has blame for all the events, has lived a sheltered and scared life. She was forced to cut family relationships because of Mark's abusive authority. Mark has made all his pastors and some leaders cry, men and women, because he makes them feel less and retaliates with what he has done to help (specifically gifts). That is how he keeps control. He makes you share your deepest confessions and then holds that against you and your family.” 

The Primary Informant clarified why they were being anonymous before saying Gainesville needs to speak out about ILC, from survivors to pastors of other churches. “I’m not afraid of any of them. If they want to meet with me face-to-face and talk about this, if they want to debate whether what they're doing is wrong, debate theologically and doctrinally, then we can do it. But I’m doing this anonymously to protect my family. Make  no mistake, if I didn’t have to protect my family, I’d share my name. Gainesville needs to speak up, and there needs to be names to this story…. Some people need to come forward and put their name on it…. On top of that, Ignite Life Center needs to be shut down. The pastors need to repent of their sin, deceitfulness, and manipulation. They need to repent for how they hurt victims and pushed people out of the body of Christ. They need to publicly denounce all that they have done and repent. They need to ask Alachua County, Gainesville, the Assemblies of God, and all their victims for forgiveness. They need to sit down behind the pulpit and be discipled properly. Honestly, some of them probably need to be genuinely saved….

The Bible commands believers to mark and avoid those who are false teachers (Matthew 7:15, Matthew 16:6, Romans 16:17, Acts 20:28-29, Philippians 3:2,18; 1 Corinthians 5:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:6,14; 2 Timothy 3:5; 2 John 10, 1 Timothy 5: 19-20.) The Bible commands elders and pastors to do the same, Paul told the elders in Ephesus, ‘Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers…. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.’ Wolves are a synonym for false teachers. They need to speak out and condemn what's happening at Ignite. Doing so means being faithful to the Word of God and His Church."

ILC has a long and growing list of coverups, civil lawsuits, criminal cases, celebrity connections, and inappropriate actions that have been covered on GnvInfo.

The full interview of the Primary Informant may be released in the coming week. 

Additionally, at a recent ILC sermon, Vega detailed that he plans to open two new programs at ILC and that he has connections with a former Gainesville mayor. A full report on this matter will be released in the coming week. 

Ignite Life Center Investigation - Gainesville Public Information Services

 

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