Heber charity founder Lon Kennard Sr. charged with years of sexual abuse
By Geoff Liesik
HEBER CITY — The nonprofit organization he founded is aimed at helping kids in the world's poorest countries. But six women now say a Heber City man subjected them to years of sexual abuse in their youth.
Lon Harvey Kennard Sr. was charged Tuesday in 4th District Court with 24 counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child, a first-degree felony; 21 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, a second-degree felony; one count of forcible sodomy, a second-degree felony; and one count of witness tampering, a third-degree felony.
Kennard, 68, was arrested on March 17 by Wasatch County sheriff's deputies following nearly two weeks of investigation that began with a phone call from a relative.
On March 6, a female relative of Kennard's contacted a deputy to ask if Kennard was a suspect in a child sex abuse investigation. The woman told the deputy that Kennard's son had shown her videos of Kennard engaging in sexual contact with an underage girl.
The son told detectives he had found the videos on an external computer hard drive that his father kept in his locked home office. The son said he had gone looking for evidence of sexual abuse after someone told him that Kennard was molesting a female relative, court records state.
Deputies seized Kennard's home computer and "several" external computer hard drives. Wasatch County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Jared Rigby said those drives and the computer are undergoing a full forensic examination. A preliminary review of digital files on those drives, however, revealed 31 videos showing Kennard having sexual contact with two teenage girls, court records state.
Detectives said they interviewed six women related to Kennard and each "related individual, personalized accounts of being sexually abused" by Kennard, according to court records. Investigators also believe Kennard sexually abused a seventh victim, who is not related to him, and made videos of the abuse. Court records say the girl is from Ethiopia and is 17 or 18 years old.
The sexual abuse outlined in court records allegedly began in 1995, around the time Kennard was serving as bishop of his LDS Church ward and one year after he and his wife founded Village of Hope. The nonprofit organization provides "development programs for destitute villages focusing on water and sanitation, agriculture and nutrition, high-risk children protection, women and girl empowerment, health care, family income and economic development," according to its Web site.The villages served are located in Mexico, Central America, Ethiopia and the Caribbean.
Village of Hope president Daniel Alger told the Deseret News that Kennard and his wife left the group in August 2009. Kennard's Facebook profile lists a second organization, Love One Another, that he launched in 2009. It apparently focuses on social and economic issues in east Africa.
Kennard remains in the Wasatch County Jail. His bail is expected to be set Wednesday, when he makes his first court appearance. Investigators, however, have argued that Kennard poses a flight risk. They point to his frequent travels to Africa and his purchase more than a year ago of a home there without his family's knowledge as grounds to deny him bail.
A receptionist for Corbin Gordon, the attorney for Kennard at the time of his arrest, said Tuesday that Gordon is not taking calls from the media.