"Milledgeville pastor" sentenced to 10 years in federal prison

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A man who previously lived in Milledgeville for several years had his day in federal court earlier this week and was sentenced to 10 years in federal lockup "followed by a lifetime of supervised release" and sex offender status.

There is no parole in the federal court system.

Eric Tuninga, 45, initially was arrested in February and accused of having sex with a 14-year-old Ugandan girl while working as a missionary pastor in Africa, according to a Department of Justice press release. Added the press release: "Tuininga admitted that he came to know the victim in his capacity as a religious leader and that the victim would visit the (Orthodox Presbyterian Church), including a compound, overseen by Tuininga. Tuininga also admitted that he engaged in illicit sexual conduct with the child."

Back when he was arrested, and again this week, news stories described Tunininga as a "Milledgeville pastor." What, exactly, was Tuininga's connection to Milledgeville, however? The missionary work in Africa was based out of a church in Oregon, and it was not a church in Milledgeville. Tuininga's Facebook profile has "Issaquah, Washington" as the place where he lives, although the profile hasn't been updated in several years. Tuininga has no jail history or criminal record here in Baldwin County.

Well, thanks to a Wordpress blog that the Tuiningas kept for several years, there's more clarity on the topic. Tuininga, his wife and their children moved to Milledgeville at some point in 2019, according to the chronology of the blog. They were members of Covenant Presbyterian Church on North Columbia Street, the pink church closer to town. Tuininga was never the "pastor" of the church, however. He was just a member for a relatively brief amount of time.

According to the blog, the Tuiningas were the parents of nine children, six "homegrown" and two adopted from Liberia and one from Uganda.

“I want to recognize the true bravery displayed by the Ugandan girl for speaking out when she was assaulted by a trusted person of power from another country, courageously seeking justice across continents,” said U.S. Attorney Peter D. Leary. “Law enforcement – both abroad and here at home – took on a challenging international case. Homeland Security Investigations’ Child Exploitation Unit worked tirelessly to ensure that the truth was uncovered and the defendant was held accountable for his crime.”

Added the press release:"This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse, launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice. Led by the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and the DOJ’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children, as well as identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov"


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