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Staff Photo / Evangelist Perry Stone preaches during a worship service at his annual conference, called "The Main Event," at the Omega Center International in Cleveland, Tenn., on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is looking into the internationally known televangelist Perry Stone nearly two years after allegations of sexual harassment and assault surfaced against the Cleveland, Tennessee-based faith leader.

The TBI has interviewed at least five people who claim to be victims or who are connected to Stone's ministry, according to three people who were present for the conversations. The state's investigative agency is in possession of a list of at least nine alleged victims as well, according to a recording of a phone conversation obtained by the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

A TBI spokesperson confirmed by email the agency is investigating Stone at the request of Steve Crump, district attorney general for Bradley, McMinn, Monroe and Polk counties, and that as of this week, the investigation is active. No further details about the nature of the investigation were provided.

Crump confirmed by phone he requested the investigation but said he would not provide further comment as the investigation is ongoing.

The results of the investigation, if approved by the TBI, would be given to Crump to decide whether to press charges.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press contacted Voice of Evangelism spokesperson John Rodriguez on Tuesday, providing Stone's ministry two days to offer comment on the investigation. The ministry did not respond to the request.

The news of the TBI investigation comes three months after it was revealed agents with the Chattanooga office of the FBI were interviewing alleged victims of Stone, who operates Voice of Evangelism, Omega Center International and the International School of the Word, all based in Cleveland.

Stone has nearly half a million Facebook followers. He has written dozens of books and recorded more than 100 DVDs and CDs. His religious teachings are broadcast on television and shared online by ministries.

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Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Voice of Evangelism is shown in Cleveland, Tenn., on March 30, 2022.

In general, the TBI can investigate the same cases as the FBI or aspects of a situation the FBI is not looking into, and vice versa. Most TBI cases begin at the request of a local district attorney, though the state investigative agency can launch its own cases if the situations involve things such as human trafficking, organized crime or fugitives.

In the spring of 2020, the Voice of Evangelism board received at least nine letters from women employed by or connected to Stone's ministry. The letters detailed allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Stone, including groping, showing that he was aroused while fully clothed and rubbing himself, asking women in his ministry about their breasts, kissing the women on the neck and lips, asking them to kiss him in similar ways, messaging them to send him pictures and asking them to massage him. At least one letter obtained by the Times Free Press said Stone would lock office doors to be alone with women.

In November 2021, speaking from the stage of Omega Center International, Stone said the allegations against him were misinterpreted hugs and other things because he is Italian. He said people were lying about him and will have to answer for it when they die.

Voice of Evangelism did not dispute the allegations against Stone when the Times Free Press provided a series of specific questions to the ministry in December 2021.

The Voice of Evangelism board said in a December 2021 statement it conducted an "appropriate and intensive" internal investigation of the allegations. The board said Stone's misconduct was "civil in nature and not criminal, but that the behavior deviated from the biblical standards set in place for VOE leadership."

The board created a restoration plan for Stone in the spring of 2020, which included professional counseling, medical care, removal from social media and absence from ministry for between six and 12 months, with some exceptions.

Alleged victims and people connected to the ministry have criticized the board's handling of the allegations, arguing the group did not thoroughly investigate or hold Stone accountable.

Contact Wyatt Massey at wmassey@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.

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Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Omega Center International is shown in Cleveland, Tenn., on March 30, 2022.
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