Crime

He preaches responsibility. Now this former Tri-City pastor will do time for child sex sting

John M. Scheline, 41, a former Tri-City pastor, was sentenced to a minimum of about five years in prison Wednesday after pleading guilty to attempted second-degree child rape in Benton County Superior Court. Scheline is one of 26 men arrested as part of the 2017 Net Nanny Operation targeting online child predators.
John M. Scheline, 41, a former Tri-City pastor, was sentenced to a minimum of about five years in prison Wednesday after pleading guilty to attempted second-degree child rape in Benton County Superior Court. Scheline is one of 26 men arrested as part of the 2017 Net Nanny Operation targeting online child predators. Tri-City Herald

A father of four was sentenced to nearly five years in prison following a tense hearing in Benton County Superior Court on Wednesday.

John M. Scheline, 41, will serve a mandatory minimum sentence of 58 months after pleading guilty in June to attempted second-degree rape of a child.

The sex crime carries a mandatory maximum life term, meaning it is up to a state review board to determine if or when Scheline will be released.

Scheline is one of 26 men arrested in the 2017 Tri-Cities Net Nanny Operation, an online child sex sting that employed ads on sites such as Craigslist and Backpage.com to nab would-be predators..

Scheline is a former Tri-City pastor who had served at Faith Assembly in Pasco and at Bozeman Christian Center in Montana.

He was executive director of Ignite Youth Mentoring until his March 2017 resignation, and was fired from a volunteer mentor role following his arrest in the July 2017 sting.

Scheline received a low-end sentence as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors.

But at the hearing, attorney Christine Bennett seemed to downplay Scheline’s actions, saying that an undercover detective brought up the idea of a minor and that her client walked away from the prospective encounter on his own.

She acknowledged his guilt but said it was a one-time offense that warranted a low-end sentence.

Speaking in a wobbly voice, Scheline apologized to the court, his family, his friends and the community. A small group of supporters sat silently through the hearing.

“I tell my kids all the time that there are consequences to your actions. I’m here today to accept the consequences of my actions,” he said.

But Judge Alex Ekstrom was angered by the attempt to downplay Scheline’s actions on the day of his arrest.

“Let’s not, when you’re supposed to be taking responsibility for your actions, recast it as something it’s not,” the judge said.

Ekstrom said he would have preferred a longer minimum sentence but agreed to follow the state’s recommendation.

Scheline won’t be released without approval of the Indeterminate Sentence Review Board. He intends to live in Richland after his release.

Scheline will have to register as a sex offender and is prohibited from having contact with children other than his own biological kids, currently ages 10 to 18 and living with his ex-wife.

According to court documents and a presentencing report, Scheline posted an ad on Craigslist identifying himself as a “fit hairy married dad” on June 13, 2017. He wrote that he was looking for a “young guy” for a sexual encounter.

A detective with the Southeast Region Internet Crimes Against Children — part of the Net Nanny team — responded three weeks later.

The detective posed as a 38-year-old father offering his 13-year-old son for sex.

In the email exchange that followed, Scheline discussed sex acts in explicit detail.

On July 6, 2017, he traveled to a Richland apartment for the purported rendezvous.

When an undercover detective playing the role of the son answered the door, Scheline turned and walked away but was arrested in the apartment complex. He had no prior criminal record.

He has been held at the Benton County jail without bail since pleading guilty.

The Net Nanny operation was led by the Washington State Patrol’s Missing and Exploited Children Task Force and included 45 local, state and federal law enforcement officers and prosecutors.

Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514
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