Cult leader Victor Barnard was supposed to have been put on a flight from Brazil under guard of federal agents Thursday and returned to Minnesota to face charges that he raped young followers in his congregation, but an unexpected delay has popped up, a defense attorney said. The extradition is now on an indefinite hold.
Barnard faces 59 counts of first- and third-degree criminal sexual conduct for allegedly molesting young girls he called “maidens” in his Pine County congregation.
He fled to Brazil, was captured in February 2015 and has been imprisoned there ever since. Even though that nation’s Supreme Court has approved Barnard’s extradition back to Minnesota, a dispute between Brazilian and U.S. authorities over any potential sentence is delaying his return.
Marsh Halberg, Barnard’s defense attorney, said a lawyer working on behalf of Barnard in Brazil “has seen the documents signed off by the State Department, U.S. Marshals Service and Brazil … they were going to ship him today, and we expected him to be in Pine County on Monday or Tuesday.”
However, one condition of the Brazilian court is that any potential sentence for Barnard in the United States not exceed 30 years, which is the maximum he would receive if prosecuted and convicted in that South American country.
That could be “the stumbling block” keeping Barnard in custody in the southern Brazilian city of Campo Grande, Halberg said.
Pine County Attorney Reese Frederickson said that even if the 54-year-old Barnard were convicted of only a fraction of the counts against him, he’d be looking at the prospect of living out his life in prison. In any event, Frederickson said, “We’re hoping that he is returned to Minnesota soon, so we can see justice for the victims.”
Barnard left his congregation’s isolated community in Finlayson, Minn., in 2010 under a cloud of suspicion for his behavior during his years at the head of the River Road Fellowship.
In 2012, two former followers approached the Pine County Sheriff’s Office to report that Barnard began a sexual relationship with them when they were 12 and 13 and that the abuse continued for years.
The county charged Barnard in 2014, setting off an international manhunt. He was arrested in a Brazilian resort town, where he was sheltering with one of his former maidens — a follower from a wealthy Brazilian family.
Media in Brazil reported in November that Barnard had been hospitalized after an apparent suicide attempt in jail.