A former Denton youth pastor has been sentenced to 33 months in federal prison for crimes related to child sex trafficking from two decades ago.
Robert Shiflet, 51, was ordered Tuesday to serve 33 months in federal prison and must remain under federal supervision for the rest of his life once he’s released. Shiflet was indicted last year on charges relating to child sex trafficking and pleaded guilty in November 2020 to two of the charges.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Tuesday at the hearing that the plea agreement, which recommended a sentencing of 27 to 33 months to run concurrently, was below the sentencing guidelines of 41 to 51 months and below the statutory maximum of 10 years on the first count and 15 years for the second.
“So I’m going to accept the plea agreement but not in any way, shape or form having anything to do with you or anything anybody has said positive about you,” U.S. District Judge Lee Rudofsky said in court, reported by the Democrat-Gazette. “But for them because they deserve some justice, even if it’s not the justice they or society should get completely.”
The newspaper reported the judge accepted the deal to help victims get some justice. The three victims at court Tuesday told the judge they would testify if the case moved to a jury trial, but said they preferred the 33-month sentence rather than risk a jury acquitting Shiflet.
“Thirty-three months is not justice but reading between the lines I have to believe the government has some concerns about this case if it went to the jury,” Rudofsky said. “I have a feeling that although these women have all said they would testify — which makes them more brave than you are on a single day of your life — they don’t want to and they want this to be done and that they are scared if this case goes to trial you will get off completely.”
According to the Democrat-Gazette, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristin Bryant said the potential guideline sentence may have been miscalculated, leading to the range of 27 to 33 months in the plea agreement to be so far under the guidelines.
“Unfortunately, we were wrong, but that was the agreement we reached based upon our understanding at that time,” Bryant said.
Federal authorities said Shiflet worked as a youth pastor in Little Rock, Arkansas, where the case was filed, at the time of the incidents before moving to Denton.
Shiflet was indicted on three counts of transporting minors across state lines to engage in illegal sexual activity and one count of coercing a minor to cross state lines to engage in illegal sexual activity. He pleaded not guilty in June 2020 but later reversed his plea in November 2020 to guilty of two counts of transporting.
“This defendant took advantage of his position of trust as a mentor to young people and instead used his power to isolate and sexually abuse them,” U.S. Attorney Cody Hiland said in a news release at the time of the guilty plea. “This predatory behavior is never acceptable, but it is particularly disturbing when the offender is a youth pastor. Our office will continue to aggressively pursue those who commit these deplorable crimes.”
According to authorities, Shiflet led a group of eighth graders in May 1997 on a camping trip to Arkansas where he was able to isolate a 15-year-old girl and sexually assault her, telling her not to tell anyone. Shiflet was 27 years old at the time and a youth pastor in Denton.
Denton Bible Church officials confirmed last year in an email to church members that Shiflet was a youth pastor there from 1995 to 2001. Officials at Liberty Christian School in Argyle confirmed in an email to faculty and parents Shiflet was a staffer from 2008 to 2010.
A 16-year-old girl reported that in 2002 that Shiflet, her youth pastor in Little Rock at the time, “engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with her.” One of the incidents was in the summer where he, 32 years old at the time, sexually assaulted her on a charter bus to Florida while on a youth group trip.
Along with the prison sentence, Shiflet was fined $7,500 and will be under supervised release afterward for the rest of his life. The release will include psycho-sexual counseling and periodic polygraph examinations, according to the Democrat-Gazette.