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    Ex-pastor sentenced in sex case

    He is sentenced to 46 months in prison for having sex with his teenage stepdaughter.

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published November 28, 2001

    DALLAS -- A former Clearwater pastor was sentenced to nearly four years in prison Monday for having sex with his teenage stepdaughter.

    Phillip Carpenter, 38, of Dallas, was sentenced to 46 months in prison after pleading guilty in August to a charge of enticing a minor to travel in interstate commerce to engage in illegal sexual activity.

    U.S. District Judge Sam A. Lindsey, who called Carpenter a "sexual predator," also ordered him to serve three years of supervised release after the jail time, during which time he can have no access to minors.

    Carpenter faced a maximum 10-year prison term and a $250,000 fine.

    Carpenter was senior pastor at Clearwater Christian Church, which was started in the mid-1990s by him and his wife.

    His wife called the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office on Sept. 2, 2000, to report that she suspected something sexual was going on with her husband and her daughter, sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Greg Tita said Tuesday.

    The wife reported seeing her husband and her daughter in bed together, Tita said.

    Child abuse detectives investigated the claims, but the girl denied that anything was going on. Tita said investigators believed otherwise, but could not collect enough evidence to arrest Carpenter.

    Detectives handed over the case to prosectors on Dec. 26, but Tita said they came to the same conclusion.

    "It's hard to go to trial without a cooperative witness," Tita said.

    But federal authorities in Dallas said the sheriff's investigators' hunch was correct: Carpenter and the girl were having a sexual relationship, but they agreed to keep it secret.

    Carpenter and his wife separated last year over the accusations. Carpenter then moved to Dallas.

    It was not clear what happened to the church after Carpenter left. No current records of the church could be found, and a church phone number had been disconnected.

    After his move to Dallas, Carpenter maintained contact with the girl by calling her at school and by relaying messages through a third party.

    Last fall, Florida officials removed the teen from her mother's custody and placed her in a children's shelter in Pinellas County.

    While there, the girl called Carpenter and asked to let her come live with him. Carpenter agreed and arranged for her to fly to Dallas shortly after Thanksgiving of last year, on her 16th birthday, officials said.

    Court records indicate the girl and Carpenter resumed their sexual arrangement, and she began living with him.

    He obtained false identification papers that indicated she was 21 and assisted her in obtaining employment at a restaurant-bar where he worked, introducing her to friends and co-workers as his girlfriend, officials said.

    Carpenter admitted to authorities that he had sex with his stepdaughter beginning when she was 15. She will be 17 next month.

    Tita said investigators found no indication that Carpenter victimized other girls in his church congregation or in Pinellas County.

    -- Information from the Associated Press supplemented this report.

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