The Tom Randall Orphanage Case: What happened in court?
In 2014, an orphanage founded by American missionary Tom Randall was raided by Philippine authorities due to allegations of sexual abuse. Tom Randall, Toto Luchavez (the orphanage director), and Jake Luchavez (Toto’s son and Tom’s godson) were arrested.
But why? As discussed in my earlier post, Tom Randall says that another missionary escalated a false allegation, resulting in an unnecessary raid. This missionary, Miriam Bongolan, says she believes the allegations were true and Randall ended up protecting the alleged abuser instead. Their accounts disagree on many points, but the central question is this: were children at Sankey Samaritan Mission Orphanage abused — or not?
A natural response is to wait for the criminal justice system to decide. But in this case, the two sides disagree on whether there even was a decision. They do agree that the legal process has come to a standstill, but they disagree on why.
This post goes through what I can find about the legal process so far. Links to primary sources are provided where available. In some cases, the primary source is no longer online; in those cases, I’ve linked to the source being quoted elsewhere.
January 2014 — The initial arrest and charges
Tom Randall, Toto Luchavez, and Jake Luchavez were arrested on January 13, 2014. Joe Coffey, Tom’s pastor, posted on his blog about the situation on January 14th and spoke about it in church on Sunday, January 19th. Filipino news reported that Randall was charged with obstruction of justice and the Luchavezes for violating anti-human trafficking law. Jake Luchavez and another orphanage worker, who was never found, were also charged with rape.
During the next three weeks, members of Tom Randall’s Ohio church started a Facebook page supporting him and the Luchavez men. They received tens of thousands of “likes” from supporters. These supporters were asked to send messages to the Philippine NBI (like the American FBI) and the US Embassy petitioning for Tom’s release. Ohio Senator Rob Portman reached out to the Philippine ambassador about the case. Tom Randall’s ministry paid all attorney fees for him, Toto, and Jake.
At the end of January, the Philippine NBI completed their investigation and turned their results over to prosecutors.
February 2014 — Tom Randall goes home, Luchavez men post bail
Tom Randall’s charges were dropped and he was released on February 3, 2014. At the same time, or possibly soon thereafter, the charges against the Luchavez men were downgraded so that they could post bail, as posted on the “Free Tom Randall” Facebook page on February 21:
We are thankful that Tom’s case was completely dismissed. Toto and Jake’s case was downgraded so that they were eligible for bail. They had to stay a couple extra days while the bail was settled but they are resting and just trying to gather the bits of their lives that were shattered by this case.
Tom Randall posted more details and similar sentiments on February 25. After this, there’s very little posted publicly about the charges against the Luchavezes.
August 2014 — hearing on a Motion to Quash
At some point in the spring of 2014, the lawyers for Toto and Jake filed a “Motion to Quash” arguing that their arrest was illegal and so all information gathered from it should be thrown out. There was a hearing for this motion on August 29, 2014, and its transcript was later released on the Phoenix Preacher blog. The hearing was limited to discussing whether or not the arrest of Toto and Jake was legal (p4). The only witness to speak was a Roy Rufino C. Sunega, an NBI Special Investigator.
The hearing begins by establishing a few basic things about why the NBI says the raid happened and why the Luchavezes were charged:
- Mr. Sunega testifies that he was part of the January 13, 2014, operation to rescue the children at Sankey.
- He says that the NBI received information from the Homeland Security Investigations desk, validated it, and concluded a rescue operation was needed because “there had been crimes ongoing inside the orphanage and that orphans inside are under constant threat from the houseparents and administrator of the orphanage” (p 12).
- Mr. Sunega says that after the arrest, they “took the statements of the victims” and “established that there appears to be a violation of special law on human trafficking, rape, and obstruction of justice” (p 14).
Then the defense attorney argues:
- An arrest without a warrant is only legal if a crime has just been committed or is about to be committed (pp 15–16).
- The place where Toto and Jake Luchavez were standing was a separate lot from the Sankey orphanage (pp 16–20).
- Toto and Jake Luchavez were simply standing at the gate observing, not committing a crime. Therefore, their warrantless arrest was illegal (pp 21–25).
There is an interesting exchange when the prosecutor asks questions again. Since the defense was arguing that no crime was in progress, the prosecutor asks on page 26:
Q: Aside from what you have mentioned, are there any other basis for such apprehension?
A: Yes, I recall saying that when we conducted the raid, we chanced upon houseparent inside the room with orphan, sir.
Q: What did you see or what happened next when you saw a houseparent and an orphan?
A: We started investigating, we started questioning them and the managers, owners and operators of the facility prevented us from conducting further actions with regards to the …
Why did this part get cut off? Why was this person not arrested too? Could this relate to the “obstruction of justice” part of the charge?
After a short recross, the prosecutor declines to call any more witnesses “insofar as the issue of legality of the arrest is concerned” (p 29), but on page 30, the branch clerk recognizes four private complainants present in court: two boys and two girls from Sankey.
The judge directs both sides to present their arguments in writing within 60 days and the session adjourns.
August 2014 — aftermath of the hearing
After the August 29 hearing, things get very strange. Later that day (morning here in the States), Joe Coffey tweeted:
And two days later, when Tom Randall gave the Sunday sermon, he said:
Speaking of good news, I have good news. Everybody likes to hear good news, don’t they? And my good news is — at least, for Karen and I, big news is — in the Philippines, we got a call just the other night, late in the morning, about 2:30 in the morning — that the hearing is finished, and the lawyers say they’re going to drop the charges on Toto and my godson.
November 2014 — Motion to Quash is denied
In fact, the charges were not dropped. On November 27, 2014, the court denied the Motion to Quash the Informations dated January 30, 2014. The judge decided that although the warrantless arrest wasn’t valid, the information gathered afterward was still usable. I can’t find this resolution published, but it’s referenced in the published March 2015 resolution.
Based on the dates and description in the judge’s decision, we can conclude this January 30 “information” contains the victim statements gathered in January while Tom, Toto, and Jake were in jail. The defense for Toto and Jake was trying to have them thrown out. In the Philippines, acts of lasciviousness (which both Toto and Jake were charged with) can only be prosecuted based on a complaint from the victim or the victim’s parents, grandparents, or guardians (Rule 110, Section 5).
January-March 2015 —Motion for Reconsideration also denied
The defense then filed a Motion for Reconsideration of the November 27 denial. The motion was yet again denied in March, 2015. This resolution was released online (part 1, part 2) and references several written comments:
- January 13 — The private complainants (the Sankey kids) say that whether or not the arrest was illegal, the information gathered is still valid.
- January 21 — The defense for Toto and Jake says that “the finding of probable cause does not vest the court with jurisdiction over their persons”.
- February 4 — The prosecutor for the Sankey kids says that the illegality of the arrest has only to do with the charges about trafficking and has nothing to do with the information gathered in the preliminary investigation or with the sexual abuse and rape charges.
In this March order, the judge agrees with the prosecutor and denies the motion for reconsideration. He rules that the information gathered is valid and he respects the prosecutor’s discretion that it comprises probable cause. The judge orders an arraignment on April 17, 2015.
2015 and beyond — Did the case ever go to trial?
Did this arraignment ever happen? Did the trial itself ever start? I am unable to find any paper trail after this point.
There are a few claims made on the Internet about trial dates:
- On April 28, 2015, John Shepherd, another missionary in the Philippines, commented online that he, Joe Mauk, and two Sankey kids attended the arraignment on April 24, 2015. (This doesn’t quite match up with the April 17 date on the judge’s order, but it’s possible the date was changed.) He also wrote that the trial was supposed to start on August 28, 2015.
- On September 7, 2015, Michael Newnham of the Phoenix Preacher blog reported that the trial was due to start October 29, 2015.
- On December 23, 2015, Karen Randall wrote, “Tom has really wanted to return for a visit to the Philippines but we just haven’t felt it was the best timing. There is still an open case against our director and his son. Tom returning could stir up things and become a problem possibly so for now we must be patient.”
- In July 2016, Joe Mauk posted a summary of his claims so far. He wrote that the trial had been due to start June 15, 2016. However, no notice had been given to the witnesses, so it was delayed yet again.
- In October 2016, Joe Mauk wrote, “This month is three years since we first received reports of abuse happening at a children’s home here in the Philippines. The showing of the movie [Spotlight] coincided with me receiving news that the victims who had so far been appearing in court have decided to not push the continuation of the trial.”
- Finally, in their December 2016 letter, the Randalls wrote, “For almost three years I have started every morning’s devotion by asking God to free John Paul from custody and for the dismissal of the case and to officially end the ordeal our family has gone through. It’s over and we thank the Lord for His abundant Grace that enriched our faith and dependence on Him.”
I have not found any news reporting about a possible trial.
From what the Randalls write, they appear to believe that the case is over and the Luchavezes were vindicated. They wrote in their October 2017 newsletter:
Personally receiving apologies from the NBI agents, DSWD personal, and prison guards and officials has been encouraging. Even the girl who accused our staff member of a kiss has asked forgiveness from him and Karen and me. The missionary who inserted himself into our business and escalated the gossip and slander which resulted in our arrest and the detention of our kids is no longer credible or relevant and poses no threat.
But from what the whistleblowers’ write, Tom Randall’s money was successful in staving off justice. Joe Mauk wrote in July 2016 that the victims went through two-and-a-half years of court appearances, delays, and obfuscation, and were looking at least another two years to reach a verdict — followed by an appeal, which could easily take another five years. He says the victims chose to move on with their lives and gave up on receiving justice in the court system.
Who is right?
From the court documents that are publicly available, we can see that from January 2014 until March 2015 the victims’ claims had not yet gotten to an arraignment. We don’t have proof of what happened after that, but neither do we have anything to refute the Mauks’ claim that the allegations were never assessed. Most importantly, at least two young people from Sankey stand by their story of abuse today.
This is all very troubling because we are left with a giant question mark about what actually happened at Sankey. The Mauks are calling for an independent investigation into the allegations by an organization that specializes in anti-abuse work. And if those kids were abused — if Tom Randall is wrong when he says there was no abuse — then we need to act.
- Other children are at risk. If it’s true that multiple orphanage workers who abused children are free, then they could be abusing more children even now. At least one orphanage worker thought to have raped a girl was never arrested.
- Victims are living a lie instead of getting support and healing. Think of the girl Tom Randall mentions so proudly in his October 2017 newsletter: “even the girl who accused our staff member of a kiss has asked forgiveness from him and Karen and me.” Did she really make her story up, or has she been forced to apologize out of pressure to please her parent figures? What about the others?
- Well-meaning supporters are being misled. If the Randalls truly believe no abuse happened, then they deserve to be set free from that lie. And if Tom Randall did make an error in protecting a perpetrator instead of victims, then those who believe that’s impossible — they deserve to be set free, too.
Update: After this story’s publication, I received additional court documents privately, which show that:
- In April 2015, the defense for the Luchavezes filed a “Petition for Certiorari” asking a higher court to reverse the two previous denied motions and quash five informations from January 2014.
- Various memoranda were filed during the rest of 2015 and 2016 arguing back and forth. In these documents, the accused say that they should not be made to participate in a trial while their petition is pending.
- The petition was denied in July of 2017.
This suggests that the court hearings focused on the legality of the arrest procedure instead of assessing the abuse allegations.
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