Delaware pastor charged with paying runaway child for nude photos. Authorities suspect more young victims

Leonard Eley of Storm Shelter Ministries in Laurel is charged with soliciting the child for nude photos. (Google Maps)

Leonard Eley of Storm Shelter Ministries in Laurel is charged with soliciting the child for nude photos. (Google Maps)

A Delaware pastor allegedly paid a runaway child for several nude photos of herself,  and authorities suspect he may have done the same with other minors.

Leonard Eley, 62, who heads Storm Shelter Ministries on U.S. 13 in the Sussex County town of Laurel, used $200 of church funds to pay the child electronically through CashApp, and paid her cell phone bill, authorities said in court records. The child, whose age was not disclosed, was a former member of the church, police said.

Only one alleged victim is specified in Eley’s arrest affidavit and indictment but Mat Marshall of the Attorney General’s Office said that based on interviews with witnesses, authorities suspect there are more victims.

Eley faces charges of sexual solicitation of a minor, two counts of possession of child pornography, and theft by false pretenses.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Laurel police began investigating in late July after calls to hotlines run by the state’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and the Division of Family Services that reported a child was possibly “being sexually trafficked.”

The pastor was arrested then just on the solicitation charge, and released on a $30,000 secured bond. A Sussex County grand jury indicted Eley on all four charges on Nov. 28, and this week authorities announced the alleged crimes in a news release.

Attorney General Kathy Jennings said in a statement that “the victim in this case is safe” and requested “that any additional victims or witnesses with information come forward. We will be there to support you.”

Jennings’ office urged victims of witnesses to contact Milton police Det. Chris Whitehouse at 302-684-8547, extension 103. Laurel police who initially spoke with the girl turned the case over to authorities in Milton, about 25 miles away, but the heavily redacted court document did not say why that occurred.

WHYY News reached Eley by phone Wednesday, but in response to queries, the pastor said “no” three times and then hung up.

Whitehouse wrote in the arrest affidavit that “pastor eley” was listed as a contact in the girl’s cell phone, and the number matched Eley’s number.

The girl’s phone also included a “selfie” photo sent from Eley’s number that matched his driver’s license picture, Whitehouse wrote.

Whitehouse reviewed several texts between Eley and the child, the affidavit said.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

In one exchange, Eley told the girl she “has too much clothes on in one picture,’’ and asked her to remove some and send another picture. He added that he “is sending $50 on CashApp,” the detective wrote.

In another text exchange, Eley asked her to do the same thing, promised to send $150 this time, and that “no one will ever see the pictures but him,’’ the affidavit said.

Eley also asked her numerous times to “delete the messages” between them, Whitehouse wrote.

The child told authorities she did what he asked, and received $200, Whitehouse wrote, adding that he “observed CashApp receipts” sent from Eley to the child.

The indictment said the money came from “church donations made to the Storm Shelter Ministries CashApp Account.”

Get daily updates from WHYY News!

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal