NJ pastor faked being assaulted, taped ‘Islamic’ note to himself, authorities say
Police in Somerset County have arrested a Somerville church pastor who allegedly staged a fake crime scene, telling authorities he had been assaulted and tied up inside the church.
On Friday at approximately 11:20 a.m., Somerville police responded to a 911 call at the New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church for a report of an individual that had been assaulted and tied up, according to an announcement by the Somerset County Prosecutor Geoffrey D. Soriano, Somerset County Chief of County Detectives Timothy M. Fitzgerald and Somerville Borough Chief of Police Dennis Manning,.
"Responding officers encountered an individual who had his hands loosely tied with a rope behind his back, legs tied, and a piece of cloth stuffed into his mouth," the prosecutor said in a news release Monday. "This individual also had a plastic bag over his head, along with a piece of paper taped to his chest and back with a misspelled Islamic phrase."
Authorities said the officers who responded untied the man — pastor Jairon Pena, 36, of Somerville — removed the plastic bag from his head and found that he was conscious and alert. He allegedly told police that two masked, gloved males and one female physically assaulted him.
Several law enforcement agencies immediately responded to conduct an investigation including the Somerville Police Department, Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office Major Crimes Unit, the Crime Scene Investigations and Forensics Unit, and agents from the FBI's Newark and Franklin Township field offices. Upon obtaining Pena's account of what transpired, the prosecutor said, the alleged victim's account had some inconsistencies.
"Pena alleged that at approximately 10:30 a.m. he proceeded to the front door of the church to investigate a loud banging at which time he was accosted by the three suspects who physically attacked him and removed bibles from the pews scattering them throughout the church," the prosecutor's press release states.
Pena also told investigators that his assailants "stomped on the bibles while ridiculing his God." The they ties his hands and legs, place a rag in his mouth and a bag over his head before taping notes to him containing the misspelled Islamic phrases, Pena reportedly told authorities.
After being transported to a local hospital for medical attention, authorities learned that Pena didn't have any visible injuries, which would normally be present in the event of being assaulted and bound. Upon further investigation, police determined that the pastor had fabricated the event "by staging a crime scene due to some personal events in his life."
He was charged with third-degree false public alarm, fourth-degree false swearing and fictitious report to law enforcement, a disorderly persons offense.
Pena was arrested and later released pending a future court appearance.
Toniann Antonelli is the digital managing editor at NJ 101.5. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ToniRadio1015.