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Crime & Courts

Crystal Lake police investigate child porn allegations against Huntley church pastors

Lake in the Hills Verizon employee tips off cops after reportedly seeing child porn on cellphone

CRYSTAL LAKE – Police are investigating a Crystal Lake couple who run a church in Huntley after a Verizon employee reported finding hundreds of images of child pornography on one of the pastors’ cellphones.

The Crystal Lake Police Department seized cellphones, tablets, CDs, hundreds of VHS tapes and other computer equipment from Stephen and Mary Foster’s home, 1739 Village Court, Crystal Lake, on Feb. 16. They also seized four vials of what is believed to be human growth hormone and two hypodermic needles, according to court records obtained by the Northwest Herald.

Crystal Lake police, the Illinois State Police, Kane County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI’s Regional Computer Forensic Laboratory also raided Morning Star Church and World Outreach Center, at 41W350 and 41W390 Powers Road, Huntley, the same day. Investigators took computers, external hard drives, a digital camera and other equipment. The equipment was returned to the church the next day, according to records of search warrants filed in McHenry County.

Morning Star Church and World Outreach Center is described as an apostolic and prophetic Christian church founded in 1986, according to its website. The church, located on 14 acres, has weekly services for its members, including a specific youth and young adult service Friday nights.

Stephen and Mary Foster are the church’s senior pastors and apostolic founders. Stephen Foster received ministerial training from Rhema Bible Training Center, in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, where he graduated in 1983, according to the website.

Police started investigating the couple after a Lake in the Hills Verizon Wireless store employee reported seeing child pornography July 11 on a device brought in by a female customer who said the device belonged to her employer, who was later identified as Stephen Foster.

The woman was looking to transfer information from one phone to another, according to an affidavit included in court records.

The first employee asked the woman for her name and phone number, but she was not willing to provide either. When the employee hooked up the phone to a machine in the store to transfer the information, he was able to see the phone number and remembered it from a previous visit. He said he later looked up the phone number on the internet and found it was associated with a church in Huntley, according to the affidavit.

He offered to show the woman everything that was transferred, which included at least one gallery with photos of “very young, under 10 years old, boys and girls dressed in only underwear.” He also said there were about 200 to 300 images of naked boys. The Verizon employee estimated the age of the boys to be between 4 and 10 years old, according to the employee’s affidavit.

The woman said the phone was her employer’s, not hers, and she “seemed to know what was on the phone,” according to the affidavit. The employee also said that he recognized the woman as having been at the store for similar service “several times” before this incident, including in September 2016, but he was not the employee who assisted her.

“I was disgusted by the content, and I contemplated seizing the phone, going into the back room, and contacting police immediately, which would have been against Verizon’s policy and would have jeopardized my employment. I, instead, notified my supervisor to make a report,” the affidavit stated.

The Verizon Wireless employee met with police on Jan. 23 and gave a written statement about his observations. Crystal Lake Police also showed him a photo lineup on Feb. 3, and he was able to identify the woman he recognized as the customer with whom he interacted.

Police also spoke with a Verizon Wireless supervisor and two other Verizon employees who interacted with either the woman or Stephen Foster. The supervisor said while she did not see the child pornography, because she did not go through the phone, she said the first employee who interacted with the female customer was “internally disgusted.” The manager told police she recognized the woman who brought in the phone and said she had previously brought in phones for data transfers, according to the affidavit.

Police spoke with a second Verizon employee Jan. 18. That employee said in April 2016 that he was working at the Lake in the Hills store when a man he understood to be a pastor or a priest came in with his phone. The employee described him as “possibly wearing a wig” and said it looked like “the pastor worked out.” The employee also said the pastor said he ran a church.

The second employee also interacted with the female customer on more than one occasion, and he said the first time they interacted she asked him to transfer data and he saw a photo gallery that included at least 20 images of nude males from teenagers to 30 years old.

The same female customer also came in another time complaining that the phone battery was dying too quickly. The employee told her that a common issue related to battery life is if the phone’s web browser has too many tabs open at once. When the employee went into the phone’s browser he saw there were between 60 and 80 browser tabs open, and from what the employee saw, they were all open on “pornography sites.”

A third employee, who also spoke with police in January, said he never saw child pornography on any phones related to the case but saw “other stuff.” He said he interacted with the customers related to the case about six months before the first employee did, according to the affidavit.

He said Stephen Foster only came into the store once or twice, to his knowledge. When he came into the store he arrived in a black Cadillac DTS. He once talked about his church and his workout routine, according to the affidavit.

Police were able to confirm that a black 2006 Cadillac DTS was registered to Morning Star Church and Stephen A. Foster, and they found it in the driveway of the couple’s Crystal Lake residence on Feb. 13, according to the affidavit.

During one of the visits to the Verizon store, a female assistant working for Stephen Foster was “adamant” about text messages being transferred over from one phone to another. The third employee came to the Crystal Lake Police Department on Jan. 23 and identified Stephen Foster as the pastor he had seen in the store and the owner of the phone.

No charges have been filed as of Friday evening, and members of the Crystal Lake Police Department and McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the ongoing investigation.

Phone calls to Stephen Foster’s cellphone, as well as messages to the church’s website and Facebook page were not returned as of Friday evening. No one answered the door Friday at the Fosters’ Crystal Lake residence.

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