A convicted child molester and registered sex offender has resigned from his position as chief of a volunteer fire department in Pennsylvania, but blames outsiders for pushing him out of the position.
Roger Gilbert Jr., 43, had been the fire chief of Spartansburg Volunteer Fire and Ambulance since at least 2016, and was recently re-elected to the position even though town officials and his fellow volunteers knew about his conviction for raping a 4-year-old girl, KDKA-TV reports. The chief position is unpaid.
Before his resignation, the town’s mayor, his fellow firefighters and some members of the community were standing by him.
“My family and our community are being attacked,” Gilbert told WJET-TV. “I didn’t want that to continue. All I have done for 18 years is good things. But outsiders are tearing us up. I felt the best thing to do was back away.”
Gilbert told the news station that he will also no longer be a firefighter with the department. He has been a member for 25 years and spent five years as an assistant chief before being elected as fire chief in 2016.
Questions were first raised about Gilbert when the local newspaper, The Corry Journal, spoke to the victim’s mother who was shocked and outraged to learn that he is in a position of authority in a town just miles away from where her daughter was sexually abused in 2000.
Gilbert pleaded guilty to involuntary deviant sexual intercourse with a child, a felony, in 2001 and two other charges, indecent assault of a person under 13 and corruption of minors, both misdemeanors, were dropped, court records show. He was sentenced to 5 to 10 years in prison. He is listed on the state’s Megan’s Law website.
He told The Corry Journal he will “no longer be affiliated with any organization that helps anyone.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Gilbert Was Paroled After Serving 6 Years in Prison, but Then Was Sent Back After Violating His Release by Interacting With Minor Children
Roger Gilbert was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with a minimum of five to be served, according to Pennsylvania court records. He was arrested in November 2000. The incidents that led to his arrest occurred in September 2000, according to the Megan’s Law website.
Gilbert pleaded no contest to the felony charge of involuntary deviant sexual intercourse with a child in May 2001 and two misdemeanor charges were dropped by prosecutors. Erie County Judge Stephanie Domitrovich sentenced Gilbert on August 7, 2001, to serve 5 to 10 years in prison, with a mandatory minimum of 5 years for being a “sexually violent predator,” court records show. He also received 10 years of probation.
According to The Corry Journal, an investigation found that Gilbert had forced the 4-year-old victim to perform oral sex on him.
After serving six years of his sentence, Gilbert was released on parole, court records show. He then returned to prison in 2007 to complete the remainder of his sentence after it was found that he had been interacting with minor children, according to The Corry Journal.
2. The Victim’s Mother Says Gilbert ‘Can’t Be Trusted Because He Is a Child Molester’
The victim’s mother told The Corry Journal that she thinks public safety is being put at risk by allowing Gilbert to be fire chief.
“They are just sweeping this under the rug,” she told the newspaper. “They are putting other lives at stake by allowing him to be in this position. Children look up to and trust firefighters. He can’t be trusted because he is a child molester.”
“She was 4,” the victim’s mother told the newspaper. “This man cannot be trusted. He should not be allowed to have certain rights for what he did. He thinks he served his time, but my daughter has to with a situation she didn’t ask for for the rest of her life. As fire chief, this man interacts with children. If you were in an accident, would you want this man working on your child?”
She added, “They need to adjust the bylaws of the fire department if they don’t already have one. They are just burying their heads in the sand.”
3. Spartansburg’s Mayor Says She Doesn’t Know Why the Victim’s Mother ‘Won’t Drop This’
Spartansburg Mayor Ann Louise Wagner told The Corry Journal that she and other members of the community are aware that Gilbert is a sex offender.
“I support the fire department and their decision to have him as chief. The firemen have always elected their own officers and that’s how it’s always been done. We don’t question their decisions,” she told the newspaper. “We have never stepped on their toes before and I am not going to do it now. He has been with our department since 2010 and just elected to his second term (as chief).”
She added, “I think we are making this into something that it isn’t. I don’t know why she (the victim’s mother) won’t drop this.”
Wagner did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Heavy.
4. Gilbert Says the Crime Was ’20 Years Ago’ & He Has ‘Changed’ His Life ‘for the Better’
Roger Gilbert told The Corry Journal that he the molestation he was convicted of occurred 20 years ago and says it has never happened again.
“You know, the story you are telling kids is once you make a mistake, you will be punished for the rest of your life,” Gilbert told the newspaper. “I’ve changed my life for the better. Every day I get up and try to do good. The mayor has assured me, along with the fire department, that they want me to continue as fire chief.”
He added, “I have to live with this my whole life. I spend every day helping people.”
After resigning, Gilbert told WJET-TV, “It seems you can never do wrong and do good again.”
He said his family has received death threats from around the world after the local news story was picked up nationally. He said he fears for their safety and that is why he is stepping down.
According to state law, Gilbert will remain a tier 3 sex offender for the rest of his life. He must have new photos taken every 90 days and register his address with the state police. That information is displayed on the state’s Megan’s Law website.
He works at NAPA Auto Parts in Waterford, Pennsylvania, according to the sex offender registry. He also lists the municipality of Spartansburg as his employer, with the fire house as his employer’s address. The position is unpaid.
Gilbert did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Heavy.
5. The Volunteer Fire Department’s Website in the Town of About 300 Says All Members Must Undergo a Criminal Background Check
Spartansburg is a town of about 300 in Western Pennsylvania.
“A rural community at the northeastern corner of Crawford County, NW PA, we’ve been around since the 1800’s, and continue to be an active, friendly community,” the town’s website says. “As you visit us through our website, you will find links to our businesses, history and attractions. Get to know us here, but please get to know us better by visiting us in person.”
Before his resignation, Roger Gilbert Jr. had support of some members of the community. They said he served his time and has tried to do good since he got out of prison.
“He goes to our church and he is trying his best to turn everything around for his life because he knows what happened is wrong,” Allan Fisher, a Spartansburg resident, told WJET-TV. The news station said several people who didn’t want to go on camera also expressed support for him.
But others disagreed.
“If he has that on his record then I don’t think he should get that title,” Macy Wardner told the news station.
Robert Daly said, “You shouldn’t have sex offenders with little children if that’s what they were accused of. That’s not right. They have them feelings. It doesn’t make you feel good about it and it doesn’t make your community look good.”
Gilbert is listed as Chief-1 on the fire department’s website. The volunteer department has three other chiefs, two lieutenants and two other officers. A president, vice president, secretary and treasurer are also elected.
The department’s website says that its members must undergo a criminal background check.
“All residents of Spartansburg and vicinity, regardless of age, creed, sex, color, handicap, disability, national origin, or membership in another fire department are eligible for membership providing they are at least eighteen years of age and the results of an Act 34 criminal background check are returned with satisfactory information,” the website states.
Pennsylvania State Police said that each department and municipality is able to set its own rules as to whether sex offenders can be hired or serve in an elected office.
Other officers with the Spartansburg department did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Heavy. The department did issue a statement Monday, saying it held a special meeting on Sunday and Gilbert later resigned.
“The Spartansburg Volunteer Fire Department exists with a mission to serve and support the greater community and surrounding area,” the statement said. “As an organization, we do not want to distract from our mission to serve. Mr. Gilbert has voluntarily resigned from his position, and we support his decision. Again, our mission is to serve and support the Spartansburg community and its surrounding areas. We are grateful for the support we receive from the community and we are going to continue to strive to serve.”