FOUNTAIN VALLEY, Calif. — A former pastor who spent 26 years serving churches in Fountain Valley and Huntington Beach as well as serving as a police chaplain has pleaded guilty to 13 felony counts of lewd and lascivious acts with minors and was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.
John Rodgers McFarland, 68, was first arrested in Escondido in December 2018 and charged in San Diego County with two felony counts of molesting a girl under 14, police and prosecutors reported at the time of his arrest, Los Angeles Times reported.
Search warrants were issued for McFarland’s home as well as churches where he worked, and police said in 2018 that investigators had found evidence other victims had been abused during his time as a pastor in Fountain Valley and Huntington Beach.
In May 2019, McFarland was arrested by Fountain Valley police and charged with seven additional felony counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a minor, including five involving children under 14, and four felony counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a minor between the ages of 14 and 15, court records indicate. His victims ranged in age from 5 to 15, according to prosecutors.
The counts against him stemmed from sexual acts committed upon seven minors, identified in court records only by their initials, between 2002 and 2018, according to a May 2019 complaint filed by the Orange County district attorney’s office.
McFarland served as the pastor of Fountain Valley United Methodist Church from 1988 to 2014 and at Surf City Church in Huntington Beach from 2009 to 2014, according to police.
In 2014, McFarland became the head pastor at Orangethorpe United Methodist Church in Fullerton.
McFarland had been a volunteer police and fire chaplain in Fountain Valley, confirmed retired police lieutenant, Jim McNeff.
McNeff, who is also a police author and managing editor at Law Officer, knew McFarland well, or so he thought. “After spending decades in law enforcement, nothing surprises me,” McNeff said. “However, these circumstances floored me. When I first heard of the arrest in 2018, I felt terrible for his victims. I’ve seen plenty of ‘good people’ go wayward, but to victimize children in this manner is repulsive.”
Continuing, McNeff said, “I knew ‘Big John,’ who stood about 6’6” and tipped the scales at about 300 lbs., as a police chaplain. He was always on call, ready to respond to a crisis, particularly when a family was dealing with suicide. Nevertheless, the crimes he’s pleaded guilty to clearly demonstrate that you never truly know the heart of another person. Everyone has skeletons in the closet, and his were horrendous. I interacted with John at least once per month between 2001 and 2012. I never would have speculated that he was a pedophile … and I’ve typically had pretty good radar on this type of crime. But it’s also why I never allowed my children to be watched by anyone that I was not intimately familiar with when they were growing up. I feel the same way now with my grandchildren, because we all can be fooled. Now, John has a heavy burden to bear and he’ll have a lot of time in prison to consider what he’s done. I pray the victim’s will receive the help they need to overcome the trauma they’ve experienced.”
McFarland initially pleaded not guilty to all charges in 2019. In response to his guilty plea last week, he received a sentence of 15 years to life in state prison with 12 other sentences to run concurrently, Los Angeles Times reported. He was also ordered to pay restitution, be tested for HIV/AIDS and participate in an AIDS prevention program, according to court documents.
McFarland is scheduled to appear in court Feb. 22 for a firearms relinquishment hearing at the West Justice Center in Westminster.