Six families are suing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah and West Virginia for knowingly allowing an individual with a history of sexual abuse near children, our affiliate KUTV reports.
According to the lawsuit, filed in Berkeley County, West Virginia, Mormon officials knew Michael Jensen was a convicted child molester - yet still recommended him as a babysitter to families and encouraged members of the church with children to board him in their homes.
In January 2005, Jensen plead guilty to sexually abusing two young girls in Provo, Utah. A year later, his parents accepted high-level leadership roles at the Mormon church in Martinsburg, West Virginia.
The West Virginia Supreme Court’s 78-page opinion outlines Jensen's trail of abuse from 2004 to 2012, including a juvenile conviction for sexual abuse in 2005 in Utah, and allegations of abuse against his sisters and others after arriving in West Virginia.
At least nine children have come forward to say they were abused by Jensen. He is now serving a 35 to 75-year prison sentence and was designated by the convicting criminal court as a “dangerous sexual predator.”
One of the plaintiffs spoke to our affiliate WJLA and said she reported the abuse of her 4 and 6-year-old children to leaders of the West Virginia congregation, who were also Jensen's parents, and they ignored her, even going as far as to tell her they thought she was lying.
"My church family preached to me about forgiveness - that I needed to forgive him," said Helen, who only wanted to be identified by her first name. "How do you forgive something like that?"
According to documents, in January 2012, the children told their parents what Jensen had done to them five years before. Helen didn't contact law enforcement immediately when she discovered the abuse.
"That is something that does eat at me. It is something that I wish that if I could go back and change, I would have done it differently," Helen said. "I felt if I couldn't even get these people that are supposed to have my family's best interest, why would a jury believe what happened?"
In 2012, Jensen was indicted for abusing other children and Helen contacted law enforcement. She said one of her sons testified at the trial but the court proceedings were not about his abuse.
According to court documents, Jensen was on trial for abusing two children in 2007. The papers say the boys, 3 and 4-years-old at the time, were forced to perform oral sex on Jensen while he was their babysitter. In 2013, Jensen was sentenced for up to 75 years in prison after he was convicted beyond a reasonable doubt for abusing the two boys.
Attorneys in the civil case contend local church leaders discussed the allegations of Jensen's abuse as early as 2007 and no one reported them to law enforcement. The layers also claim LDS church leaders in Utah knew Jensen was convicted of other sex crimes in Utah in 2004.
The entire document is available below.
Our affiliates KUTV and WJLA contributed to this report.