58ºF

Women sue Florida Seventh-day Adventists following Orlando pastor's abuse

Billy Leveille convicted of child abuse, unlawful sexual activity with minor

ORLANDO, Fla. – Attorneys for two victims abused by Orlando Seventh-day Adventists pastor Billy Leveille have filed a lawsuit against the Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, alleging the church was negligent after the Orlando pastor was convicted of sexual activity with a minor and child abuse.

The women who wanted to be named and tell their stories had attended Bethel Elise Haitienne Des Adventists Church in Orlando, where Leveille was the senior pastor.

Kenia Gilles said she was 16 years old and Jeny Desronvil said she was 21 when the abuse began, shortly after they were both elected and appointed to the church's secretarial team. 

"In my head, I just had to close my eyes and deal with it and soon enough, but that was not the case," said Gilles, now 19. "I blamed myself for a long, long time."

A video leaked in March 2017 of Leveille having sexual relations with both Gilles and Desronvil, and Leveille was arrested in May 2018. He was charged with unlawful sexual activity with a minor and child abuse after Gilles and her father pressed charges. He pleaded guilty and was sentence to seven years of probation.

"At the time I was hurting in silence, but it hurt more when things came out," Gilles said crying. "I had to look my father in the eyes and he had to tell me, 'Why did you not tell me? I am all that you have?'"

Desronvil did not pursue criminal charges at the time.

"In a Haitian church, it's difficult to really speak out on behalf of the pastor and say, 'This is what  the pastor is doing to you,'" Desronvil said. "I'm tired of being mentally, physically, emotionally and even spiritually abused. I feel like my truth should be known."

The attorneys allege that the Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists was negligent in supervising Leveille and others at the church. The Florida chapter "had a duty to oversee, manage, and ensure the safety and wellbeing of its parishioner members at its churches," according to a lawsuit filed May 16 in Orange County Circuit Court.

The Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists "knew or should have known" Leveille had "proclivities to seek sexual pleasure from his minor parishioners and/or prior instances of sexual misconduct" and allowed him to remain in a position of authority and control over children, according to the complaint.

From summer 2016 into early 2017, Leveille escalated a pattern of manipulation and coercion with the victims, according to the lawsuit, including taking them to hotel rooms under the guise of "conducting business for the church."

"I want to tell the Florida Conference that you should put more effort to the employees you put out there. Check on them. Do background checks," Gilles said. 

According to the lawsuit, Leveille told Gilles she would have to have sex with him in order to be the lead event planner for a large event, saying, "This is part of the job." While planning for the event, he told the teen "I own you" and that she would have to "be his wife," according to the complaint.

Both women are speaking out in an effort to help others who may find themselves in a similar situation, according to their attorney.

"We want to say to anyone that is out there, if you feel like you can't tell anyone, that is not the way to do it," Gilles said. "Someone can help you."

News 6 went to Leveille's home but no one answered the door. Requests for comments were also sent to Leveille's attorney and the Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. If they respond, this story will be updated.


About the Authors: