Man sentenced to 22 years after pleading guilty to sex charges involving underage girls

WEST ASHLEY, SC (WCSC) - The man who pleaded guilty to two sex charges involving minors will spend 22 years in prison, a judge ruled Thursday.

Armando Gonzalez, 66, pleaded guilty to third-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor and committing a lewd act with a minor Thursday morning in court.

Gonzalez received a 15-year sentence for the criminal sexual conduct charge and a 7-year sentence for the lewd act charge, attorney Mark Peper, who represented the victims, said. The 7-year sentence cannot begin until after the 15-year sentence is complete, he said.

The lewd act involved someone he knew well during the 1990s, prosecutors say. The solicitor said the assaults took place while victim was between 6 and 11 years old at multiple locations.

"I just don't want him to do it again," the victim said in court.

Prosecutors said the second charge involved a 4-year-old and reportedly happened at The Salvation Army's Church in West Ashley.

"He said he continued to assault the child sexually because he assumed she liked it and that she never said no or told him to stop," said Charleston County Assistant Solicitor Jennifer Shealy.

Shealy, filling in for coworker Shannon Elliott, described the details of the case before Judge Markley Dennis and several family members of the victims.

The family of The Salvation Army victim said the abuse started when their daughter was 4 and continued until she was 9.

Following the report to authorities, Gonzalez was arrested in December 2015 for those alleged crimes at the time.

"[Upon his arrest] he admitted his conduct and also gave the names of two other children he had done this to," Shealy said. "Neither of those children have made a disclosure."

Expressions of disgust could be seen on many faces in the courtroom including Judge Dennis's.

"What he did to my daughter, as well as other children, was selfish, inhumane, and unforgiving," said the mother of the most recent victim. "Armando Gonzalez should have never been in the same Sunday School class where he abused my daughter. I just want to make sure he can never abuse another child."

"To use a church... I really wish there was more time I could give you, to be honest with you," Dennis said.

In a statement released after the guilty plea, the Salvation Army stated Gonzalez was a member of the Salvation Army church but was never employed by The Salvation Army, nor did he serve as a Sunday School teacher.

"The victims are as pleased as you possibly can be knowing that with the defendant's age and the amount of time he got in prison, it's very unlikely he'll ever be able to assault a minor child again," Peper said.

According to a lawsuit filed against the Salvation Army, two women claim Gonzalez sexually abused them for years at the West Ashley location.

During Thursday's hearing, Gonzalez apologized and asked for forgiveness, but Peper said the victims remained stoic to the apology.

"They don't expect any sincerity from the defendant, they don't expect any remorse from him." Peper said. "He made his bed, he's going to lay in it. He did this over and over and over again for the last 20-some-odd years and did it with his own wife in a Sunday School classroom, so you don't expect remorse from someone like that."

Gonzalez's wife has not been charged with any crimes, but Peper said both victims were "adamant" that she not only knew of the crimes but was present for "multiple" crimes committed by her husband.

"We're certainly pursuing every avenue to prosecute her both civilly and criminally," Peper said. "Unfortunately, the state is the only one that can go forward criminally."

Peper said Gonzalez voluntarily admitted there have been additional victims in the last 20 years.

"We know there are other victims, the defendant himself has admitted that," Peper said. "I fully expect, the more press this gets, that other victims will come forward."

Gonzalez was arrested in December 2015.

When one of the victims reported the abuse in October of 2015, Gonzalez confessed to years of sexual abuse at The Salvation Army and was subsequently charged and arrested, according to lawyers.

Court records state Gonzalez told law enforcement that he did not stop the abuse because the child "never said no."

The full statement released Thursday by the Salvation Army reads as follows:

In October, 2015, a Salvation Army church member contacted The Salvation Army of Charleston corps officer and reported that a family member had been inappropriately touched in Sunday School class by church member, Mr. Armando Gonzalez. As soon as The Salvation Army heard the allegations against Mr. Gonzales, he and his family were banned from all Salvation Army church and community programs and Salvation Army properties.

Mr. Gonzalez was a member of The Salvation Army church but was never employed by The Salvation Army, nor did he serve as a Sunday School teacher.

Upon hearing the report, the Salvation Army corps officer immediately contacted law enforcement and encouraged the family to seek medical attention at the local hospital. The Salvation Army fully cooperated with law enforcement as they investigated the matter.

From the moment The Salvation Army heard the allegation, our first priority has been the care and well-being of those affected and their families. The Salvation Army guidelines do not tolerate sexual misconduct of any kind. We are committed to the safety of those we serve and will continue to refine our practices to ensure the safety of all who come through our doors.

Since 1906, The Salvation Army has been proud to serve Charleston with programs that change lives and meet the needs of our community. The mission of The Salvation Army is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, and meet human need in His name without discrimination. We are honored to be a part of this community and will continue this mission of service for years to come.

Shealy said Gonzalez had a prior record with a 2003 charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. She added this included touching and kissing a child.

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