Minneapolis choir leader accused of sex with teen

  • Article by: PAUL WALSH and ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: February 24, 2009 - 11:31 PM

A Minneapolis church choir director charged with sexual assault also has a felony conviction for a similar incident a decade ago.

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Gregory Beauchamp Washington

A noted Twin Cities gospel singer and church choir director is charged with sexually assaulting a Brooklyn Park teenage girl who sings in the choir, a nearly identical scenario that led to his felony conviction more than five years ago in St. Paul.

Gregory B. Washington, 32, was ordered held Tuesday on $150,000 bail on two counts of third-degree sexual assault, with the condition that he stay away from all females younger than 18. He is on probation from the earlier conviction, for which he was sentenced to 120 days in the workhouse.

A Hennepin County prosecutor drew parallels between the cases Tuesday.

"We're seeing here that the facts are astonishingly similar, in which he leads a young female through the auspices of the church, had sexual relations with the female and eventually had a child with her," Assistant County Attorney Judith Cole said in Hennepin County District Court of Washington's earlier conviction. "It seems to be a pattern for Mr. Washington."

According to the latest charges: The girl was 15 at the time of the alleged assaults last fall, the first at her home and the other at Washington's residence in Plymouth. The sexual encounters were discovered by the girl's mother when the girl said Washington had given her a ring she was wearing. The mother also saw sexually explicit text messages Washington and the girl exchanged.

According to Washington's online biography, he started recording with the awarding-winning gospel ensemble Excelsior, and he has shared the stage with Sheena Easton, Roberta Flack and Sounds of Blackness.

Washington, choir director at Greater Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in south Minneapolis, is also director of Voices of Praise, a Minneapolis gospel group. Two pastors at Greater Friendship could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Washington appeared on KARE-TV, Channel 11, this month promoting a solo CD.

His MySpace page promotes his album and career. The first line of his biography reads, "Gregory may look similar to a certain R Kelly, but that is where the similarity ends!" The statement is a reference to R&B singer R. Kelly, who was acquitted last year of child pornography charges after a videotape surfaced that allegedly showed Kelly performing sex acts with an underage girl

In the St. Paul case, Washington met his victim when she was 15 and he was 19, according to the charges. At the time he was the music or choir director at Zion Baptist Church in north Minneapolis. He regularly took the girl to church, to dinner and went to her school volleyball games.

According to complaint, in September 1996, he persuaded the girl's family to let her stay at his St. Paul apartment on Saturday nights, making it easier to get to church. While there, he showed her a pornographic video and they had sex that night. The two had sex on several occasions. She learned the next spring that she was pregnant. She gave birth in November 1997.

"What he does, he usually takes some kind of insecurity issue and takes advantage of that weakness there," his victim in the St. Paul case said in an interview Tuesday. "He showers you with gifts."

The woman, whom the Star Tribune is not identifying because she is a sex-crime victim, said she saw him on KARE promoting his music. "I wasn't angry, but ... I just wonder how he can continue living two lives and boldly break the law, obviously, when there are kids involved.

"How can this be your choir director? Doesn't this go against what your religious belief is?" she said.

According to those charges, Washington also had a sexual relationship with another teenager: "The victim said she and Washington had sexual intercourse one more time in the summer of 1999, one day before he got married to a 16-year-old girl that he had gotten pregnant."

On Tuesday, Washington's attorney asked for his client's conditional release from jail, saying that Washington has abided by the conditions of his probation, surrendered when he learned of an arrest warrant, and has family to support as well as a job and a home. Washington's relatives, including an aunt and brother-in-law, looked on.

Kelly called his client "a responsible young man" and said his "previous conviction rose out of a relationship he had continued in for several years," adding that Washington remains in contact with the mother and her child.

Judge Margaret Daly set bail at $150,000 with the condition requested by prosecutors that he stay away from females younger than 18.

"Obviously the allegation in the current complaint is of concern," Daly said. "Obviously the fact that he is on probation for a similar offense is of concern."

Washington's family and Kelly declined to comment.

pwalsh@startribune.com • 612-673-4482 asimons@startribune.com • 612-673-4921

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