A 33-year-old former youth mentor at a popular Orange County megachurch has been found guilty of sexually molesting two teenage boys, prosecutors announced Thursday.
Jurors convicted Ruven Meulenberg, of Lake Forest, on three felony counts of lewd acts on a child and a count of lewd acts on a child under 14 years old, according to a news release from the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
He faces a maximum possible sentence of 12 years, six months in state prison when he returns to court for his sentencing on Oct. 5.
Meulenberg was a volunteer youth mentor at Saddleback Church, an evangelical Christian megachurch in Lake Forest, when he molested the two boys, prosecutors said.
Meulenberg committed lewd acts on the first boy between May 2016 and May 2017, beginning when the victim was 13, the release stated.
Then, on May 22, 2017, the defendant molested both brothers, who were 14 years old at the time, according to authorities.
Deputy DA Courtney Thom described some of the sexual abuse during the trial’s opening statements, telling jurors that the boys were sitting with Meulenberg in a darkened movie theater when he prompted one of them to sit on his lap, City News Service reported.
The defendant kissed the 14-year-old twice — once on his head, another time on the cheek — before kissing him on the lips, according to the prosecutor.
Meulenberg tried to get the teen to kiss him, asking him to do so, but the victim told him he didn’t feel comfortable doing that. After, the defendant had the boy switch seats with the brother, CNS reported.
He then repeated the same illicit behavior with the other teen, the prosecutor said.
“This is not saying hello or goodbye. This is the defendant manipulating his position of trust and confusing these young boys to see how far he could go,” Thom said, CNS reported.
Later, after leaving the theater, Meulenberg had one of the brothers “sit between” his legs, according to the prosecutor.
When the boys got home, one of them reported the sexual abuse to their mother, the woman told KTLA.
She said her son showed tremendous bravery and courage in telling her about the abuse.
The mother then brought it to the church’s attention. At first, she said, their reaction was to have her speak with Meulenberg and that perhaps she had misinterpreted what transpired.
But the following day, the mother was contacted by someone from the Junior High Ministry, where she proceeded to detail the incident again, she told KTLA. It was at that point that the church contacted law enforcement.
Prosecutors confirmed a representative from Saddleback Church called deputies on May 24 to report the inappropriate conduct, sparking an investigation, the DA’s release stated.
Meulenberg was arrested on suspicion of lewd conduct the following day.
Saddleback Church is among the largest in the U.S., with a weekly attendance of around 22,000, according to statistics compiled by the Hartford Institute for Religions Research.
One of the victims regularly attended the church at the time of the abuse, officials said. He was also part of the Junior High Ministry program, something “designed specifically to help 7th-8th graders connect with Jesus, each other and a caring adult,” according to the website’s mission statement.
The Sheriff’s Department confirmed Meulenberg mentored junior-high-aged children at the church when they announced the arrest.