Police said a pastor in Georgia kept people with disabilities imprisoned against their will.
The pastor, Curtis Bankston, and his wife were arrested and charged with false imprisonment.
Bankston denies keeping anyone against their will and said he was providing genuine care.
A pastor and his wife were arrested and charged with false imprisonment after officials found as many as eight people locked in their basement in Griffin, Georgia, police said.
Curtis Bankston, 55, and his wife, Sophia Simm-Bankston, 56, were running an unlicensed "group home" at their house "under the guise of a church known as One Step of Faith 2nd Chance," the Griffin Police Department said in a statement released Tuesday.
Bankston has denied the charges. His lawyer has said the Bankstons were providing genuine care to people in need.
Griffin Fire was called to the home on January 13 to respond to a report of a person having a seizure. When they arrived, they discovered the basement door was dead-bolted and had to climb through a window to access the patient, police said.
Investigators determined the eight people in the basement were "essentially imprisoned" against their will, "which created an extreme hazard as the individuals could not exit the residence if there were an emergency," police said.
They added that the people in the basement had mental or physical disabilities, or both.
Police said the Bankstons were also in charge of the people's finances, medications, and public benefits, and in some instances had denied them medicine or medical care.
In another statement released Thursday, Griffin Police said the people ranged in age from 25 to 65, and that some have been placed into alternative housing by the state Department of Human Services. Police said the investigation is still ongoing and additional charges may be brought against the Bankstons.
"It is both frightening and disgusting to see the degree to which these individuals have been taken advantage of by people who were in a position of trust," police said.
A lawyer for the Bankstons could not immediately be reached by Insider.
The pastor appeared alongside his lawyer, Dexter Wimbish, at a press conference on Thursday and denied the charges against him and his wife.
"Everybody inside this home was here on their own free will, they were free to come and go as they please. No one was kept, held hostage," Wimbish said, 11Alive reported. He said he had documentation that proved the Bankstons were not profiting off the people but genuinely providing care for them.
Wimbish said if anything, the Bankstons may have violated zoning ordinances by operating the care facility from their home without a local license. But he said the Bankstons did register the program with the state, which The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said it confirmed with records from the Georgia secretary of state's office.
"There is no fraud here. This is simply a Christian man who was following his calling to help those who are in need. We cannot sit by and allow ministry to be attacked," Wimbish said, according to AJC.
Reverend Joseph Wheeler of the National Action Network also spoke in defense of the Bankstons at the press conference, saying he has worked with them for 30 years.
"They're not criminals. They are caring for the vulnerable among us. In this community and other communities," Wheeler said, according to 11Alive.
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