Former preacher pleads guilty to having sex with 12-year-old

A former minister who initiated a months-long sexual affair with a 12-year-old girl as he served as her family’s spiritual advisor pleaded guilty to reduced child-molestation charges Thursday.

Superior Court Judge Art Smith III sentenced Bradford Ford, 47, to 15 years with eight to serve in prison and the rest on probation in a plea agreement to which the victim’s parents agreed, partly to save their daughter, now 14, from having to testify in a trial.

Ford, formerly pastor of “A Love for God Ministry,” pleaded to three counts of child molestation and one count each statutory rape and enticing a child for indecent purposes. He initially was charged with aggravated child molestation, which carries a penalty of 25 years to life in prison.

Defense attorney Stacey Jackson said the family’s willingness to forgive Ford was the primary factor in resolving the case. Assistant District Attorney Letitia Sikes read a letter from the child’s mother, who expressed her sense of betrayal, writing, “This is not the person you presented to my family,” but later adding, “I forgive you. It’s only a scar now.”

Sikes said Ford, who sometimes acted as the child’s custodian while her parents were at work, bought the girl a cell phone and gifts such as a teddy bear, a tactic investigators call “grooming” a victim. He began to fondle her while her parents were gone, and gradually advanced to having sex with her here in Columbus and in a low-rent Phenix City motel, where Ford left some of his home and vehicle information on a receipt.

He also sent the girl intimate texts through the cell phone he bought her. His wife later saw some of the texts on his phone, and then retrieved the phone and gifts her husband had given the girl, so she could destroy them.

The girl, who turned 13 during the time Ford was molesting her, eventually told her mother what he was doing. She reported it to police on Jan. 3, 2013. The victim, described as quiet and shy, remains in therapy.

The terms of Ford’s probation prohibit his acting as a minister. He also will be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life, Sikes said.