Ex-sect member: Woman with cult leader was member

Published 10:41 am Tuesday, March 3, 2015

MINNEAPOLIS — A former member of a small religious sect said Monday that the woman arrested with its leader in Brazil was part of the group back when it was based in Minnesota.

Brazilian authorities on Saturday announced the arrest of self-professed minister Victor Arden Barnard, 53, leader of the River Road Fellowship, who was on the most-wanted list of the U.S. Marshals Service. He was being held pending extradition.

Barnard was charged in Pine County last April with 59 counts of criminal sexual conduct for allegedly having sexual relationships with two girls who were among around 10 girls and young women he had inducted into his “Maidens Group” at the fellowship’s secluded compound near Finlayson, about 90 miles north of Minneapolis.

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The Marshals Service says Barnard moved to Washington state in 2010 after some adult members began questioning him, and several of his maidens and other followers joined him there. Barnard was captured late Friday in an apartment near a white-sand beach in northeastern Brazil, along with a 33-year-old woman. The Associated Press isn’t naming her in case she was a victim and because she hasn’t been charged.

But former River Road Fellowship member Jeff Sjolander of Duluth, who welcomed Barnard’s arrest, recognized her name and told The Associated Press that she had been one of the “maidens” in Finlayson, so he wasn’t surprised that she was with Barnard in Brazil.