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Former church official ordered to pay restitution for sexual battery of fellow church member

Public defender Aaron Kelley speaking with Judge Williams about Sahmel’s restitution. (Arielle Shoshan/ WUFT News)
Public defender Aaron Kelley speaking with Judge Williams about Sahmel’s restitution. (Arielle Shoshan/ WUFT News)

A senior official at a non-denominational Christian church in Gainesville has been sentenced to jail and ordered to pay for counseling for a fellow church member after assaulting her, according to police.

Daniel Sahmel, 39, the former director of service programming for Anthem Church, is scheduled to be back in court April 10 to promise he will pay for counseling for the victim, who – in her first interview since the attack – said she was abandoned by the church spiritually and financially during the ordeal.

The police report says Sahmel sexually assaulted the woman in her home after she texted him she wasn’t feeling well. He then forced himself onto her while she was having a seizure. When questioned about his actions that evening, the police report says Sahmel lied to the officers about his whereabouts and denied entering the woman’s house.

Sahmel and members of his legal team have been contacted for this story and have declined to comment.

According to the police report, Sahmel found the woman’s address in the church’s directory, forced her to delete their text exchanges and lied to investigators until confronted with evidence of the attack. According to the victim, Sahmel got her phone number when he coordinated her baptism at the church.

Sahmel had worked at the church since 2020 and is a married father of two.

The victim reported to police that she did not consent or want any physical contact and attempted to escape Sahmel. She could not escape and told Sahmel to stop, but he refused, according to the police report. Sahmel told her, “I want to f*** your brains out, and I know you do too.” She replied to Sahmel, “No, I don’t!”

Since the incident, the woman has left the church.

Jason Lee, lead pastor of Anthem church, declined to answer questions about the case, saying it was inappropriate to discuss a former employee or anyone who is receiving mental health counseling.

“Our Church continues to pray for all involved,” Lee wrote.

Sahmel initially denied the victim’s claims of sexual battery, according to the police report. But, he later admitted to performing sexual acts, claiming the victim had a “fake” seizure at the front door, according to court records.

The victim has been attending group counseling since the assault, where she got to know other women who have been raped or assaulted. She said one of the girls in her small group no longer attends the same church because she was raped and didn't want to report it.

The victim said the church initially paid for her counseling and then stopped.

Since Sahmel’s arrest, he has been fired from his church, his wife filed for divorce six days later, and he remains in the Alachua County jail. The judge ruled that Sahmel will not have a felony on his record once he completes his sentence of 270 days in jail and five years of probation. Sahmel was also required to register as a sex offender.

Darry Lloyd, the deputy investigator at the state attorney's office, said the plea agreement was light on Sahmel due to the victim's wishes.

“But in this case, in dealing with the victim, you're just looking for the resolve that they were okay with,” Lloyd said.

Sahmel requested a motion for a bond reduction just two days after his arrest. In his first appearance, the judge set the bond for $125,000 with the special condition of outfitting the defendant with a GPS monitor. The judge later denied his motion for a bond reduction. Sahmel is also banned from having contact with the victim.

During her final statement to Sahmel, she expressed how she wanted to show him mercy.

“I don't feel like it's my place to punish him,” the victim said. “It was important for me to tell him that I forgive him and that his life isn't over just because he did something horrible.”

Sahmel’s April restitution hearing is regarding his payment toward the Crime Victim Compensation fund. The fund is set up by the state of Florida on a case-by-case basis and goes toward counseling services for victims.

Alachua County also has the Victims Services & Crisis Center as a resource to help victims. It has been around for over 36 years and is available to assist victims of crime or violence. The toll-free 24-hour hotline number is 866-252-5439.

Arielle is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.