Phillip Caminiti, 55, is the pastor of Aleitheia Bible Church, which meets in homes in the Black Earth area. Caminiti came under fire in 2010 for allegedly advising members that they needed to discipline their children with a wooden spoon or dowel when they became “selfish.” According to reports, the oldest child involved was five years old and the youngest was two months.
After certain members left the fellowship, they reported Caminiti to police, who conducted an investigation. Caminiti told police that he was simply counseling according to Scripture.
However, Caminiti was soon charged with eight counts of “Conspiracy to Commit Child Abuse,” and was placed on trial before a jury.
The trial, which took place in March of this year, featured argument both for and against the pastor. Certain members who were also facing child abuse charges testified against Caminiti as part of a plea deal. Jury deliberations lasted only two hours and resulted in a guilty verdict.
District Attorney Shelly Rusch had suggested to Judge Maryann Sumi that Caminiti be sentenced to five years in prison, with fifteen years of government supervision thereafter. However, during his recent hearing, Sumi reduced the penalty to two years in prison with six years of supervision.
“[T]here was and continues to this day, no expression of remorse or repentance for the consequences of those actions, or what the whole chain of events has led the family and the community through,” Sumi stated.
However, Caminiti’s lawyer, Yolanda Lehner, had told the court that she was surprised that the government was making such an issue out of the matter.
“These children were loved,” Lehner stated. “The whole idea of spanking was that they wanted them to grow up and be the kind of people to honor their God.”
She also argued that discussing one’s religious beliefs should never be construed as being a conspiracy.
“Phil never gave anyone orders,” she said. “He just talked to people and said what he thought.”
Caminiti has been prohibited from having any contact with his church members, except for his immediate family, and may never lead the church again. The court stated that it did not want Caminiti to advise any other individuals to commit child abuse through spanking.