Two men with ties to a defunct church-operated home for girls and boys in Bienville Parish—and to the Baptist minister and accused sexual predator who ran the facility—currently are actively involved in the congressional campaign of State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia), LouisianaVoice has learned.
Timothy Johnson of Choudrant in Lincoln Parish, who was fired earlier this year as a vice president at Louisiana College after leading an unsuccessful coup against President Joe Aguillard, is married to the daughter of Rev. Mack Ford who ran New Bethany Home for Girls and Boys south of Arcadia in Bienville Parish for several decades.
Timothy Johnson performs work on behalf of the Riser campaign, Riser’s campaign headquarters confirmed on Monday. His son, Jonathan Johnson, Ford’s grandson, worked for about a decade as State Director for retiring 5th District Congressman Rodney Alexander at $75,000 per year and is currently a paid employee of the Riser campaign.
LouisianaVoice has obtained more than a dozen affidavits from women who lived at New Bethany as teenagers and each one accuses Ford of sexual abuse, including rape and in at least one case, of having forced a 17-year-old girl at the school to perform oral sex on him.
The girl, now a woman with children of her own, said Ford had her follow him into a building on the New Bethany grounds only to encounter a woman who was cleaning the office. He told the woman to leave so he could “counsel” the girl. Once the woman was gone, he directed the girl to get on her knees. “I thought it was to pray,” she said, but then she said Ford unzipped his pants.
Another girl who claimed to have been subjected to sexual abuse at the hands of Ford, attempted to have Ford prosecuted after she left the home, married and had children of her own but law enforcement officials and the district attorney’s office in Bienville Parish ignored her claims until, despondent over her failed efforts, she committed suicide. Before she killed herself, however, she fired off a scathing letter to Ford.
In her letter, she reminded Ford that she was recruited for a singing quartet which would visit area churches to give testimony in order to attract monetary donations to the home and he would then later force her to have sex with him.
Once, while on a testimonial trip to Rhode Island, she said in her letter, she walked in on Ford having sex with another girl and instead of being contrite and ashamed, Ford blamed women in general, telling her that a man could “smell a woman” and that smell was what caused men to yield to temptation.
“You used your power to gratify your selfish, sick needs with no regard to the harm and pain and years of shame you were inflicting on innocent children,” she wrote. “And sickest of all (were) your attempts to find sexual fulfillment from children you had an obligation to protect. You lied to everyone—our families (and) multitudes of churches across the nation. You lied and said we were safe with you when in fact, you were a predator of the worst kind.”
When the children at the facility were not being sexually abused, each of the affidavits claim, they were being physically and mentally abused. The abuse including beatings, scrubbing children’s bodies with steel wool pads, handcuffing them to their beds with no opportunity to go to the bathroom, being forced to clean commodes and dog pens while wearing no rubber gloves, and forcing other residents to gang up on rebellious residents.
Female residents were forced to turn their backs and look down when male residents walked by. They were told if the boys lusted after them, it was their (the girls’) fault.
Children constantly ran away but were returned by sheriffs’ deputies and Ford steadfastly refused access to the grounds by state inspectors, claiming that he took no state money, was not licensed by the state and was not obligated to comply with state child care laws because as a church-affiliated facility, he was protected by the separation of church and state doctrine.
One of the things the state wanted to inspect was a four-story girls’ dorm that had no windows and no sprinkler system in the building.
It took decades before the state was finally able to shut the facility down and when it was finally closed in 1996, at the organization’s final board meeting, the board member who made the motion to sell off all the facility’s assets was Timothy Johnson, Ford’s son-in-law, married to one of the Fords’ eight daughters.
A support group comprised of former residents of New Bethany who say they each were physically, mentally and sexually assaulted claim that one girl who was assaulted by Ford managed to record the attack and was subsequently whisked away from the school by Timothy Johnson in an effort to protect his father-in-law.
Despite this incident and despite his serving on the board and making the motion to sell the home’s assets, Timothy Johnson is said to have insisted in a conversation with an employee at Louisiana College that he had never heard of New Bethany.
Another interesting twist emerging from documents received by LouisianaVoice involved a 1981 visit to another of Ford’s homes, the New Bethany School for Boys in Longstreet in De Soto Parish. The chairman and spokesman for the school, Rev. Bill Burrows, met with state officials and told them New Bethany was not required to be licensed by the state because of a new state law he had written with the help of then-State Rep. Woody Jenkins of Baton Rouge.
Jenkins would later make three unsuccessful runs for the U.S. Senate against incumbents J. Bennett Johnston, Russell B. Long and Mary Landrieu.
Ford even branched out in his operations, following the pattern set by his mentor, Lester Roloff, who ran several such schools in Texas before dying in a 1982 plane crash. Ford opened a school in Walterboro, S.C., where one of his daughters resided. South Carolina officials later raided that facility, however, and arrested two men who ran the home for cruelty to juveniles after authorities found boys locked in concrete cells wearing only their underwear and with just a coffee can for a toilet.
Ford taught the girls that it was a sin to wear pants and makeup or to listen to popular music or watch television and that if they were friends with anyone of a different faith, they would go to hell.
One girl said she was forced by one of the women at New Bethany to pull up her dress and to pull down her panties at which time she was beaten on her buttocks with a paddle.
On another occasion, a girl said she arrived at New Bethany and was sitting in a room when Ford walked in and asked her name. When she did not respond, he grabbed her by the hair and slapped her repeatedly with both the palm and back of his hand until she screamed out her name. He then told her she would continue to be “spanked” until she could answer in a civil tone.
One girl said she saw a girl who refused to eat grabbed by “several resident females” and held down while a staff member pried open her mouth and shoved peas down into her mouth. When she tried to spit them out, the food was shoved back into her mouth until she gagged whereupon she was told by the staff member that if she threw up, she would be paddled.
One man who removed his daughter from New Bethany was especially critical of the methods employed by Ford. “He would take those kids around to area churches to give testimonials about what a wonderful place it was,” he said. “And those kids weren’t about to rebel because they knew what would be waiting for them later if they did. When they would give their tear-jerking testimonials, the church members would hit the floor with their knees while reaching for their wallets to held Mack Ford with a love offering,” he said.
Ford now lives in retirement at the back of the New Bethany property and his son-in-law moved first into academia and now both he and his son have are involved in the Riser campaign that has itself been the subject of considerable criticism.
First, Alexander announced he would retire in a matter of weeks and then Gov. Bobby Jindal immediately announced Alexander’s hiring as head of the State Office of Veterans Affairs at $150,000 per year, a job that will give a substantial boost (from about $7,500 per year to $82,000 per year) to Alexander’s state retirement over and above his federal retirement and social security benefits.
Then Riser announced his candidacy…but before Alexander had gotten around to announcing that he was stepping down, according to the Federal Elections Commission (FEC), leading to well-founded speculation that the Alexander retirement and subsequent state job offer was orchestrated by Jindal to open the door for Riser. Riser, for his part, said the FEC incorrectly dated his candidacy documents.
The state congressional delegation, with the exception of the state’s two U.S. Senators, Democrat Mary Landrieu and Republican David Vitter, immediately endorsed Riser for the 5th District seat.
So now we have a candidate for an office that was created for him by the governor to replace a sitting congressman who will move into a cushy appointive position to feather his state retirement while two campaign workers—a son-in-law and a grandson—tied to a fundamentalist Baptist preacher who is said to have preyed on teenage girls for several decades now work in the candidate’s campaign.
And Jindal tried to tell us on inauguration day back in 2008 that it was a new day in Louisiana.
You can’t sell this as fiction; the plot would be considered far too improbable.