Beaufort News

Beaufort County councilwoman says Beaufort man accused of sexual assault is innocent

A Beaufort County councilwoman and member of Community Bible Church said Wednesday she believes a congregation member accused of sexually assaulting a 4-year-old girl during a Sunday school class is innocent.

Cynthia Bensch said she's seen video footage from the church that proves the sexual assault 44-year-old Joel Iacopelli of Beaufort is accused of could not have happened.

"The timeframe doesn't work and the video doesn't work for the allegations," she said. "It will all come out in the trial. ... We know he is innocent."

Iacopelli was charged with criminal sexual conduct with a minor under the age of 11 after an investigation into an alleged sexual assault June 28 during Sunday school at Community Bible Church, according to a Port Royal Police Department report.

Bensch said church policy requires the doors to classrooms to be kept open and prohibits teachers from being alone with one child. Cameras record the classrooms, and security personnel regularly walk by. In one instance, Iacopelli can be seen talking to the Sunday school coordinator who had walked by, Bensch said.

"Children are precious in the church," she said. "We take every precaution to protect them."

Iacopelli was charged July 10 and released from the Beaufort County Detention Center on July 24, one day after a Circuit Court judge set a $75,000 bond. Under the terms set by Circuit Judge Thomas Cooper of Manning, Iacopelli paid 10 percent of the bond amount to be released. Cooper also barred Iacopelli from interacting with any children other than his own.

Bensch said she has known Iacopelli and his family for nearly 10 years. Both were regular volunteers during Sunday school. On the incident date, Iacopelli was working after switching a volunteer shift with his wife, Bensch said.

"They are a great family, a fabulous family," she said. "If you had a flat tire, he would be right there to help you."

Two of Iacopelli's four children were across the hall from the classroom he was volunteering in when the assault is alleged to have occurred, Bensch said.

Bensch and nearly 30 other members of the church were present during his bond hearing July 23. She hoped to speak on Iacopelli's behalf during the hearing, but Cooper did not ask anyone else to speak other than the mother of the alleged victim. The mother told Cooper that her daughter was struggling with her emotions since the incident and that the incident had shaken their trust in the church.

Bensch said she was not one of the people who submitted affidavits or letters of support on Iacopelli's behalf that defense attorney Jared Newman referred to during the hearing, but said that she would write an affidavit on his behalf.

She also visited Iacopelli when he was in the detention center, where he used his faith to keep him going, she said.

Attempts Wednesday to reach Community Bible Church senior pastor Carl Broggi for comment were unsuccessful.

Aside from the victim's statement to police, no other information about the alleged sexual assault has been released by police or the 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office.

During the bond hearing, assistant solicitor Mary Jordan Lempesis recounted how the girl told her mother about the alleged incident the day she was picked up and how the mother brought the child to a pediatrician the next day, where the assault was reported to police. Lempesis said the investigation into the incident is ongoing.

Deputy Solicitor Sean Thornton said Wednesday the office does not comment on pending cases.

No update about the investigation into the sexual assault by the Port Royal Police Department was available Wednesday, according to Mandy Kenninger, the department's records and victims' services clerk.

Follow reporter Matt McNab at

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