CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- He is a pastor who calls himself an “apostle,” but former members at Charlotte’s Church of Philadelphia call Clavon Leonard something much more sinister.
"I would describe him as barbaric,” said former church employee Talitha Williams.
For 18 months, the I-Team has investigated claims of abuse against Pastor Leonard. Three of Leonard’s former personal assistants said their service involved mind control, beatings and sexual abuse.
One former assistant said, “It would rip your flesh... blood would splat everywhere.”
Another assistant told the I-Team his punishment included, “smacking the face, punching in the chest, whipping with a belt, whipping with an extension cord.” He and other assistants said Pastor Leonard sadistically grabbed their private parts.
During an interview with the I-Team, Pastor Leonard denied beating his assistants, but said, “Yeah, I beat my kids and I have smacked some people.”
Leonard’s former wife, Ayanna Stinson, said he frequently beat her sons until they were bloodied. "I mean, I had to leave when I did cause I really felt that I had got to the place where I would have killed him. Because my children are all I have,” said Stinson.
NewsChannel 36's I-Team investigation has now prompted a police investigation, after former teenagers at Charlotte's "Church of Philadelphia" have come forward with allegations of abuse.
Former member Ayana Armstrong said Leonard beat her with a belt and his hand. "If we did something wrong or something that he didn't agree with, he started to whoop us when I was 13.
Somebody would hold me and he would take his hand and he would slap. It hurt. I would feel the first two, but after that my face was numb."
Armstrong attended both the Church of Philadelphia and "Character Builders Christian Academy," a school started by Pastor Leonard in Charlotte. A former student at that school told the I-Team that Pastor Leonard regularly beat him with a belt. He described them as “serious beatings.”
Leonard said he could have “jacked up” that teenager. “I think I might have hit him when he had that weed.”
That teenager was a student in Leonard’s school and a resident in a rural Yadkin County, North Carolina group home called "Intregity House." The home was started by Clavon Leonard.
Church employee Talitha Williams also worked in the home. "It was a group home for teenage boys who were, had some type of problems with sexual abuse or who were sexual assailants themselves,” said Williams.
Williams maintained Pastor Leonard frequently targeted one boy in particular and would punch him in the chest. “Chest punches that he would give them could knock the wind out of someone," according to Williams.
Another group home employee, who asked not to be identified, said Leonard would “verbally abuse” the kids and “smack ‘em in the face.” The employee said these were kids who “were already struggling in life” and they were afraid of him.
Pastor Leonard maintained he never hit anybody in the group home. “There's never been anything substantiated. Nothing against the group home, never. Never been nothing against me. Never,” said Leonard.
While those inside said they suffered physical abuse, state inspectors said there were numerous other problems inside the group home, including incomplete medical records, no client records, no individual notes for therapy, a bad smell in the home with urine and feces on the floor and out-of-date food and drink items in the refrigerator.
One group home employee told the I-Team, "He wouldn't feed 'em. I mean, we had to a lot of times we had to feed the kids with our own money out of our own pockets cause the group home didn't have any food. Many times, we would go to the group home and there wouldn't even, the lights wouldn't even be on."
In 2008, "Integrity House" was shut down by Pastor Leonard after state inspectors said the home had submitted a "falsified Certificate of Insurance".
One group home employee told the I-Team he believed Leonard was motivated by money. “He called it a ministry. But behind that, I believe there were other motives,” said the employee.
This month, the Church of Philadelphia moved Sunday services to a new location--Nathaniel Alexander Elementary--which is a CMS school.
Many of those who have left the church maintained Pastor Leonard is a dangerous man. Leonard denied those accusations though. “Not at all. I think we all can be. Can we all get mad? Yeah, we all get mad. Does that make you dangerous? Absolutely not," he said.
In addition to the Church of Philadelphia, Pastor Leonard said he oversees eight other churches in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Texas and New Jersey.