Police: Tampa clergyman falsified probation documents for intimate hugs

August 1, 2013 

Charles M. Leigh BAY NEWS 9 PHOTO

TAMPA -- Police have arrested a Tampa clergyman who they said falsified probation documents in exchange for "intimate" hugs from an undercover officer.

Charles M. Leigh, 64, is facing six counts of falsifying official documents. Leigh is the head of the Apostolic Catholic Church on Nebraska Avenue. That church is not affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church.

According to police, investigators received a tip in June that Leigh was falsifying court probation paperwork for defendants who had been ordered to perform community service hours as part of their probation.

On June 19, an undercover officer posed as a defendant who was serving probation on a grand theft charge. Police said Leigh falsified the officer's probation documents to give her credit for 17 community service hours in exchange for four hugs.

"Now this is a seasoned police officer who was incredibly uncomfortable by the type of hugging he was doing. It was very invasive," said Felicia Pecora with the Tampa police. The officer met with Leigh again on July 31, which is when police said Leigh falsified her probation documents once again. This time he gave her credit for an additional 33 community service hours for three "groping" hugs, police said.

"Today's hugs were groping hugs in such a way that she pushed him away from her, he grabbed her again, pulled her in and she had to shove him off of her," said Pecora. Christina Sweet-Fields says she stopped doing her community service at the church because Leigh made her feel uncomfortable.

"He's very touchy. You know what I mean, he comes on very quick like, he'll try to grab you and hug you in ways you shouldn't be hugged and stuff like that from a pastor," said Sweet-Fields. Sweet-Fields says Leigh never offered to falsify her hours but she says the accusations don't suprise her.

At a church across the street, pastor L.B. Jones says he is shocked.

"I had even asked him a year ago, he came and spoke to the congregation," said Jones. "His message was enlightning, inspirational and encouraging."

Now, Jones says he's simply praying for Leigh.

"I hope this is not true but then if it is, him being a man of god, this is something between him and god you know that he's going to have to live with," said Jones. Tampa police say leigh is facing twelve counts that have to do with falsifying records or official documents.

They also say this investigation is on-going and more charges could be filed.

Leigh was arrested and taken to the Hillsborough County Jail.

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