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Lower Burrell man charged in state probe of child sexual abuse among Jehovah's Witnesses

A Lower Burrell man is charged with indecent assault stemming from a statewide grand jury investigation of child sexual abuse in the Jehovah’s Witnesses community.

Ronald W. Mangone, 69, is accused of sexually assaulting a girl about 30 years ago, when she was between 6 and 8 years old.

Mangone’s family was actively involved in the New Kensington Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation and later in the West End French congregation, according to a criminal complaint filed by the state Attorney General’s Office.

In testimony to the grand jury, the woman, now 37, told authorities that Mangone sexually assaulted her on multiple occasions from 1991 to 1994.

Mangone’s attorney, Duke George, said his client denies all of the allegations.

“The only thing I have is the criminal complaint. We haven’t had an opportunity to cross-examine or do anything with reference to the case,” George said. “We have no discovery. I don’t know what the (district attorney) has with reference to their investigation of the case. Eventually, we’ll get all of that in preparation for our defense.”

The woman’s older sister, now 49, also testified to the grand jury that Mangone had sexually assaulted her when she was about 12 to 13 years old.

In 1988 or 1989, the older sister told her mother about the assaults after her mother saw Mangone watching her showering. The mother then reported the abuse to elders at the New Kensington Jehovah’s Witnesses hall, the complaint states.

The older sister recalled meeting with the elders and being told no abuse had occurred because the assaults didn’t fit the definition of rape, according to the complaint.

Although Mangone cannot be charged with any criminal offenses pertaining to the older sister because of the statute of limitations, “the offenses demonstrate a common plan, scheme or design that corroborates” the younger sister’s testimony, the complaint states.

Both women testified to the grand jury that, in 2016, they had discussed Mangone abusing them. After this discussion, their mother was told of the younger girl’s abuse and reported it to Jehovah’s Witnesses elders, the complaint states.

The grand jury probe of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, founded in the Pittsburgh area and headquartered in New York state, began with a referral from a county prosecutor who felt the state should take a broader look at the issue. As of July 2023, 14 suspects had been identified and charged with raping or molesting children as young as 4, years or even decades ago.

One defendant killed himself before he was arrested.

Critics have said that Jehovah’s Witnesses elders have treated child sexual abuse as a sin rather than a crime, documenting them in internal files but not reporting them to authorities. A church spokesman has previously challenged those criticisms, saying elders comply with reporting requirements and that members are free to report sexual assaults to authorities.

Mangone is charged with three felony counts of aggravated indecent assault, three misdemeanor counts of indecent assault and misdemeanor counts of endangering the welfare of children and corruption of minors.

Mangone was arraigned April 3 before New Kensington District Judge Frank J. Pallone Jr., who set his bail at $100,000, according to court records. He was released from the Westmoreland County jail on April 4 after a professional bondsman posted the bail.

His preliminary hearing is scheduled for May 30 before Pallone.

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