NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Federal agents have arrested the president of a Louisiana bible college as he tried to get off of a plane.
Cornelius Tilton, 65, of New Orleans is accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old student on Saturday (Nov. 30) on a flight from Israel to New Jersey.
Federal prosecutors in New Jersey said Tilton touched the young man inappropriately and forced the victim's hand to touch him in a sexual manner.
“Usually, when you have things happening on international flights, the federal government would step in because it’s not really a one-state issue, and so I think it’s appropriate to see the federal government handling this,” FOX 8 Legal Analyst Joe Raspanti said.
“During the flight, Tilton allegedly placed his hand on the victim’s bare calf. Tilton continued to touch the victim’s thigh and eventually began rubbing the victim’s genitals over the victim’s shorts. The victim did not react, or look at Tilton, out of shock and fear,” prosecutors said.
They said the victim left to go to the bathroom in order to avoid further contact, but the sexual behavior continued when he returned to his seat.
Tilton made his first court appearance Monday.
“I spoke to an assistant U.S. attorney in the office, and he was not certain whether or not this man is going to be detained or released on a bond,” Raspanti said.
While the FBI did not release the name of the college, Christian Bible College of Louisiana on Paris Avenue lists Tilton as its president. He is also an acting pastor at a church in the Irish Channel.
“I am shocked. I knew him for at least two years,” Elizabeth Diket said.
Marline Young says her mother worked closely with Tilton as one of the church's board members.
"The person that I know, he was a pastor of the Irish Channel Community Church. A very sweet person. You know, if you go to him and you need anything, if he can help, he would," Young said.
Some who attend Irish Channel Christian Fellowship said he is a mentor to many.
"My nephew had a lot of trouble growing up, and he always helped him," Diket said.
Tilton faces up to two years in prison, or a fine of up to $250,000, or both.
"They picked the statute, I'm assuming, that best fits the facts of the situation, and in this one, he is fortunate that they chose one that is zero to two years, versus one of the ones that are much higher," Raspanti said.
Those who know him say he is a respected figure in the community.
“I’m just shocked and very hurt to hear something like this about him,” Young said.