The Rev. Gerald Derstine said he was acting as a father figure

The leader of a northern Minnesota Christian retreat center took advantage of his grandfather-like role in a girl’s life and inappropriately touched and kissed her, according to the girl’s attorneys.

The Rev. Gerald Derstine, 81, pleaded in writing with the girl and her mother to call off authorities who were investigating him in 2009 for the alleged sexual abuse, said the girl’s attorney Patrick Noaker. A lawsuit against Derstine and Florida-based Gospel Crusades Inc. and Gospel Crusade Ministerial Fellowship, which he founded, was filed Wednesday in federal court.

The suit asks for a judgment in excess of $75,000.

Becker County authorities investigated Derstine, and did not pursue charges.

Derstine has run Strawberry Lake Christian Retreat near Ogema for more than 45 years, where attorneys alleged he sexually abused the girl from August 2007 to July 2009, when she was 11 to 13.

Noaker and attorney Sarah Odegaard said Derstine groomed the girl, now 14, by giving her toys and candy. He called her into his office daily, where the abuse occurred, Odegaard said. One incident occurred in a motel room, according to the lawsuit. The girl had little contact with her father, so her family and Derstine agreed that Derstine would mentor her.

In a transcript of a phone call between the girl and Derstine released by her attorneys, the girl asked Derstine if it was OK that they were “kissing on the mouth and hugging.”

“…I tried to be a close friend to you, that’s what I was trying to do and perhaps in the long run I shouldn’t have done that,” Derstine allegedly said.

She later said to him, “Um, tell me that it was OK that you touched my breasts, you know, when I was up in your office and –”

Derstine replied, “Yeah, the only reason I did that was because I was tr-trying to encourage you, uh, t-to let you know that I’m recognizing th-that you’re growing, th-that you’re becoming an adult and I wanted, um, as-as a father figure I thought that was all right…” Derstine denies the allegations.

Chao Xiong ? 612-673-4391