A 32-year-old youth mentor at Lake Forests’ popular Saddleback Church was arrested after two teenage boys told authorities they had engaged in lewd conduct with him, sometimes on the ministry’s property, officials said Friday.
Ruven Meulenberg, a Lake Forest resident who mentored junior-high-aged children at the evangelical Christian megachurch, was taken into custody on suspicion of lewd and lascivious acts with a child on Thursday, Orange County sheriff’s officials said in a statement.
Officials began investigating Meulenberg after a 14-year-old boy reported being engaged in an inappropriate relationship with a church mentor to patrol deputies on Wednesday.
Detectives identified a second victim, also a 14-year-old boy, during their investigation, authorities said.
Both teens reported engaging in lewd conduct with Meulenberg for the past year and the inappropriate behavior allegedly spanned several incidents, several of which were carried out on Saddleback Church property, deputies said.
At the time of the alleged abuse, one of the victims regularly attended the church and was part of its Junior High Ministry program, which the Saddleback website says is “designed specifically to help 7th-8th graders connect with Jesus, each other and a caring adult.”
Because Meulenberg has worked at the church as a volunteer for about the past six years, the nature of the allegations and his leadership role giving him access to children, investigators believe there could be additional victims.
More than 22,000 people attend the Saddleback Church on a weekly basis, making it the seventh-largest congregation in the U.S., according to data released in 2015.
Meulenberg is being held in Orange County Jail on $100,000 bail. He is scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday.
Anyone with information regarding additional victims can contact the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s Special Victim’s Detail at 714-647-7418 or 714-647-7000. Anonymous tips may also be submitted to Orange County Crime Stoppers at 855-847-6227 or occrimestoppers.org.