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Preacher Charged With Child Abuse: Cobb Pastor Accused Of Fondling Two Girls

BYLINE: By Cynthia Durcanin Staff Writer
DATE: 08-02-1988
PUBLICATION: The Atlanta Journal and Constitution
SECTION: Newspapers_&_Newswires
PAGE: B/01

A Baptist preacher who established a Cobb County ministry after leaving two other churches amid allegations of sexual misconduct was arrested in Marietta Monday on charges of child abuse, police said.

Cobb police arrested the Rev. Tony McGowan, pastor of the New Grace Baptist Church in Powder Springs, Monday on two counts of cruelty to children and one count of child molestation in connection with alleged fondling incidents involving a 12-year-old and a 17-year-old he met through his ministry.

The allegations came to light after the youngest girl, now 14, told her mother that the minister, 43, fondled her in a church van. "She just decided somebody had to be told because she didn't want anyone to go through what she did," Lt. Robert Pittman said, adding the child initially refrained from telling her parents because "she did not think anybody would believe her."

In February, the Georgia Department of Human Resources (DHR) also investigated the Rev. McGowan after he and his wife took in a child he met through Cobb Street Ministries, a shelter run by Cobb County Commissioner Harvey Paschal and his wife, Carol.

A woman who made a temporary foster care agreement with the McGowans filed a complaint with authorities when the couple later refused to give up the child, Lieutenant Pittman said. However, once police intervened, the Rev. McGowan and his wife returned the child to its natural mother without incident and the case was dropped.

DHR is currently investigating Cobb Street Ministries on unrelated allegations that it is placing children in foster care without a license.

Calling the Rev. McGowan "a good friend," Mr. Paschal said he has been "very active in the [Cobb Street] ministry," and has helped to feed, clothe and shelter the needy.

Mr. Paschal said he was stunned by the news of the Rev. McGowan's arrest.

"It knocked me right off my feet," he said. "That is totally out of character from what I know about Tony McGowan. . . . If I had been looking for a child molester it would not have been him."

Asked whether he knew of allegations that forced the Rev. McGowan to leave an Alabama church, Mr. Paschal said he did not.

According to Capt. Sharon Moody, the Rev. McGowan established a ministry in east Cobb after a board of elders at a Gadsden, Ala., church asked him to leave amid allegations of sexual misconduct and misappropriation of funds.

The Rev. McGowan served as pastor at Morningview Baptist in east Cobb until 1985 when church officials asked him to leave after similar allegations, Captain Moody said. He established New Grace Baptist in September 1986.

The Rev. McGowan, of 2795 Old Carriage Drive in Marietta, is being held in the Cobb County Jail without bond and could not be reached for comment.

When reached for comment, his wife, Betty McGowan, said she was unaware of the charges. "I know that it's not true," she said.

Police identified three other alleged victims during the course of the investigation, but no charges are being filed because of the statute of limitations, Captain Moody said.

The girls told detectives the Rev. McGowan often invited young girls from his church to spend the night at his home where he tickled and chased them around in their nightgowns.

The 17-year-old was allegedly molested in the Rev. McGowan's car and the younger girl allegedly fondled inside a church van, police said, adding that the investigation is still open.

The Rev. McGowan, who began his most recent Cobb County ministry in a Powder Springs warehouse, now preaches to his 100 or so followers in trailers that serve as a makeshift church on Macland Road, Lieutenant Pittman said.

Copyright 2003 The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution