A Thompsonville-based Christian television and radio network is dismissing claims of negligence in connection with allegations of sexual abuse of a child by the brother of the network's founder.

Three Angels Broadcasting was named, along with Tommy Shelton, 65, in a federal lawsuit filed in Chicago Monday.

Tommy Shelton is the brother of 3ABN founder Danny L. Shelton.

The lawsuit was filed by Alex Walker, now 25, who claims he was sexually abused by Tommy Shelton while Shelton was a 3ABN employee and a Church of God pastor.

The sexual abuse started in 1997, the suit alleges, at a church in Virginia, where both Walker, then 11, and Shelton were congregants.

Shelton later became pastor of the church and continued his affiliation with 3ABN, the suit claims.

Shelton eventually left his position at the church because of child sexual abuse allegations, the suit alleges, and returned to 3ABN in 2001 as an employee in the production department.

Walker, who lives in Coles County, alleges the abuse continued when he became a part-time employee at 3ABN in 2001.

The suit alleges 3ABN, with Danny Shelton as president, was aware of previous allegations of sexual abuse against Tommy Shelton dating back to the early 1980s and undertook a campaign to discredit those who reported the abuse and threatened to sue accusers who made the abuse allegations public.

Despite knowledge of previous allegations, the suit alleges, 3ABN continued to allow Tommy Shelton access to children, which presented an "obvious threat" to Walker and other children on its premises.

The lawsuit accuses Tommy Shelton of sexual assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct.

Attempts to reach Shelton were unsuccessful.

In a statement released by 3ABN, the network said the lawsuit first came to their attention in August of last year when Walker's attorneys sent a letter claiming that Shelton had sexually abused Walker when he was a teenager.

The network said the letter asserted that 3ABN is legally responsible for abuse and demanded the network pay money to Walker. According to the network, the attorneys asked that the matter be treated confidentially.

The network said Tommy Shelton was employed by 3ABN in its production department in 1993 and 94 before he resigned to become a pastor for a Church of God congregation in Virginia. Shelton left his position with the Church of God and was re-hired by 3ABN in January of 2001 where he worked again in the production department until he retired in January of 2007.

While there is no formal affiliation, 3ABN supports the Seventh-day Adventist denomination.

"At no time did Tommy Shelton ever pastor, preach or teach on behalf of 3ABN or the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. The religious work that allegedly brought him into contact with the claimant was for a different Christian denomination - as different from the Seventh-day Adventist denomination as the Baptist denomination is from the Catholic denomination. To the best of our knowledge, as an employee of 3ABN, Tommy Shelton's duties never caused him to have contact with Alex Walker, who was supervised during the few weeks of employment at 3ABN by his own adult brother."

The network said they hoped the matter had ended when Walker's previous attorneys withdrew, but learned Monday that Walker has hired different attorneys to pursue his claim. The network said they have received a copy of the lawsuit and have turned the matter over to their attorneys.

"3ABN does not believe that the claims against it have any merit. We intend to vigorously defend the good name of our organization," the network said in statement faxed to The Southern Illinoisan.

stephen.rickerl@thesouthern.com / 618-351-5823

beckymalk@gmail / 618-927-5633


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