A Saddleback Church youth mentor was convicted Wednesday of molesting twin teenage boys on two occasions when they were 13 and 14 years old.
Ruven Meulenberg, 33, of Lake Forest, was convicted of two counts of lewd acts with a minor younger than 14 and three counts of lewd acts on a child 14 or 15.
Deputy District Attorney Courtney Thom told jurors in her opening statement that the defendant encouraged one of the twins to sit on his lap when they went to see a movie with Meulenberg and his brother. Meulenberg kissed the 14-year-old boy on the head and cheek before kissing him on the mouth, the prosecutor said.
"This occurred in isolation in the back row of a darkened movie theater,'' Thom said. "This is not saying hello or goodbye. This is the defendant manipulating his position of trust and confusing these young boys to see how far he could go."
When Meulenberg asked the teen to kiss him, the boy said he did not feel comfortable doing so, Thom said. Meulenberg then asked to "switch seats" so he could sit next to the boy's twin, according to the prosecutor.
The defendant did the same thing with the other boy, who was "reluctant" to put up a fuss because he did not want to seem "ungrateful" for the "help" Meulenberg had provided as a volunteer youth mentor at the church, Thom said.
When they left the movie, Meulenberg had that boy "sit between" his legs in the backseat of the car, Thom said.
When the brothers got home, the boy who was kissed by the defendant told his mother what had happened, she said. The mother contacted a church official, who called sheriff's deputies, according to Thom, who added that the boys were also molested on one occasion in 2016, when they were 13 years old.
"The boys' mom was shocked by this," Thom said. "She entrusted her boys with this man. She felt she could trust him. She had no reason not to."
One of the brothers made a "covert call" to the defendant with law enforcement secretly eavesdropping, during which the defendant apologized for what happened and promised he wouldn't do it again, Thom said.
Defense attorney Brian Neal Gurwitz told jurors that his client "is factually innocent of all charges" and has "zero sexual attraction to boys."
Meulenberg emigrated from Holland with his identical twin brother to work at Saddleback, Gurwitz said, and "have mentored countless kids over the years." Their sister and parents also came to the U.S., and the family lives together, he said.
The victims, who are fraternal twins, were struggling with anger management and other behavioral issues as their parents discussed a possible separation, the defense attorney said.
"They were fighting a lot," the attorney said.
Meulenberg did not protest the boy's allegations in the covert call because he wanted to wait to talk to his mother first, Gurwitz said.
The defense attorney accused investigators of being "extremely close-minded" from the start and said they failed to get a search warrant to check the defendant's computers or digital devices for incriminating evidence such as child pornography.
The deputies didn't even ask Meulenberg if they could check his computers, and one of them failed to record an interview with the teenage twins, Gurwitz said.