WINTER HAVEN – An associate pastor was arrested today on child sexual battery charges.
Arnold Maurice Mathis, 40, of 2705 Avenue I NW in Winter Haven, was arrested at 4:30 a.m. by Polk County Sheriff’s Office detectives, who charged him with sexual battery on a 14-year-old child.
The sheriff’s office said the victim is now 21 years old.
The investigation started on Friday, Dec. 16, after the victim contacted the sheriff’s office and described to them numerous sexual incidents that allegedly took place between himself and Mathis over a period of two months about six years ago. The sexual incidents, the arrest report notes, happened at several locations, including Mathis’ home.
According to the arrest report, Mathis first met the victim at a local basketball game, where he approached the boy offering to “help” him financially. That included an offer to buy him some new shoes, the report notes.
“The victim had no father figure in his life at the time, and believed the suspect was trying to mentor him,” noted Donna C. Wood, the public information officer for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, in her release on the arrest. “The suspect provided the victim his phone number and the victim contacted the suspect the next day.”
At the time, Mathis was 34 years old. The sheriff’s office reports that he arranged to meet with the 14-year-old boy at a local park, and later took the teen to his home. It was there, the arrest report notes, that Mathis performed oral sex on the boy
After engaging in sex with the teen, Mathis gave him a $100 bill and told him to buy a pre-paid phone so they could contact one another in the future, the arrest report notes.
Over the next two months, Mathis continued to contact the boy and engage him in sexual activity, and then provided him with gifts and cash afterwards, Wood noted.
When detectives went to Mathis’ home this morning, they said he told them he was the current assistant pastor of Higher Praise Ministries in Lake Wales. In 2005, Mathis was the senior pastor for Saint City Power and Raise Ministries in Winter Haven.
He was arrested at his home, and Mathis has been charged with five counts of sexual battery by a person of authority on a child over 12 and under 18.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office noted that this is not Mathis’ first brush with the law on a sexual offense charge. Mathis was designated a Registered Sexual Offender from a 1997 conviction in Leon County, for which he spent time in prison.
In December 1993, Mathis was arrested and charged with indecent assault on a child in Leon County. He was sentenced on Feb. 21, 1997 to four years in prison, at the Taylor Correctional Institute in Perry, Florida. He was released on Jan. 25, 1999.
Mathis was also arrested by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office in August 2004 and January 2011 for failing to register as a sex offender.
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