By Simon Masaba
A former pastor in the American state of Georgia is staring at a 30-year jail term for sexually abusing a Ugandan minor during a missionary trip to Uganda.
In a press statement from the United States Department of Justice, Eric Tuininga on Wednesday pleaded guilty to his crime in Federal Court. The minor was under the care of his church in Mbale district.
Tuininga, 44, of Milledgeville, Georgia, admitted to uncouth sexual conduct in foreign places. He was in court presided over by Chief US District Judge Marc T. Treadwell.
Consequently, on his plea of guilt, recorded by court, Tuininga was placed under mandatory federal custody before sentencing, which is fixed for May 3.
In addition to the probable 30-year maximum jail term, he will be slapped with a sh872.5m ($250,000) fine.
Tuininga will also be placed on a register of the shamed sex offenders at the time he completes serving his sentence.
The USDOJ Attorney, Peter D. Leary, rebuked Tuininga and his ilk for abuse of their influence and privilege in their predatory shenanigans.
“Eric Tuininga used his trusted position as a pastor to sexually assault a young Ugandan girl in his care,” stated Leary.
“This was a challenging case, but law enforcement worked diligently to ensure that Tuininga did not escape justice for his crime overseas. The US Attorney’s Office, along with our national and international law enforcement partners, will do everything in our power to catch child predators and hold them accountable for their crimes.”
Special Agent in Charge Katrina W. Berger slammed Tuininga, saying he betrayed the trust of those who looked to him for guidance.
“Tuininga was supposed to be someone that could be trusted, but instead he abused that trust and victimized a child,” said Berger, who oversees Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) operations in Georgia and Alabama.
“HSI and its law enforcement partners will continue to utilise every resource available to identify, arrest and prosecute those who prey upon children.”
How Tuininga was netted
Court documents indicate that an American citizen affiliated with the US-headquartered Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), with an affiliate in Mbale, Uganda, contacted US Embassy Kampala American Citizen Services (ACS) in June 2019.
The complaint was that Tuininga was having sex with Ugandan female minors as young as 14 years old who were under the care of the organization.
Subsequently, the US Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DSS) agents in Kampala, Uganda, commenced the probe.
At the time, Tuininga had already returned to Georgia. However, the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Child Exploitation Unit, Atlanta, continued the investigation.
Later, federal agents identified a Ugandan minor who was 14 years old in March 2019, when the crime was committed.
During interrogation, he conceded that he came to know the victim in his capacity as a religious leader and that the minor would often visit the OPC church, including a religious compound under Tuininga.
The case was investigated by HSI Child Exploitation Unit with special assistance from US Department of State DSS agents in Kampala, Uganda.
Assistant US Attorneys Alex Kalim and Katelyn Semales are prosecuting the case.
Project Safe Childhood
This case is an initiative of the American nationwide initiative dubbed Project Safe Childhood.
It is aimed at stamping out the surging epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse, launched in May 2006 by USDOJ.
In execution of duty, the chief stewards are US Attorneys’ Offices. They liaise with DOJ’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals.
They use federal, state and local resources to locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children, as well as identify and rescue victims.