A prominent evangelist who built a following ministering to gang members in Chicago and around the United States, who had unprecedented access to inmates, and who is credited with helping hundreds, if not thousands of youths change their lives, also allegedly had a secret life in which he preyed upon some of the same youths he vowed to help.
"To me he was a friend. He would listen. He would take you out to eat or give you a book," former gang member John Holman said of Gordon McLean, an internationally-known speaker with a respected Christian ministry called Youth For Christ.
Holman and five others are part of a civil lawsuit against McLean filed in 2013 alleging the author of 18 books sexually abused them in exchange for money.
Among the allegations: episodes of sexually-charged spanking.
"He had this ritual he did every time," explained Boyce Allen Sr., one of McLean's accusers. "He would put cologne on your hand and tell you to rub them together, and then he would take a leather strap; it was like a little belt. He would slap you a couple of times on one hand and then he would slap you a couple of times on the other hand. You would lay across his nude lap and he would clutch you and hold you while he was spanking you and you could tell he was really into it and enjoying it."
Allen said he allowed it to happen because he was young and needed the money at a time when he said he was “pretty desperate for drugs.”
Attorney Steven Denny represents the men who he said all tell similar stories of being abused as young men by McClean. They're allegations McLean denied in his Feb. 2015 court-ordered deposition.
During the 80s and 90s, most people avoided the gang-infested neighborhoods of Austin, Salem Park and the Cabrini Green projects. But not McLean. He crossed gang lines to reach out and help those who needed it most.
"He has this way of spoiling people, young people," said Allen.
For roughly a decade, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office allowed McLean access to inmates in the jail’s "Boot Camp" – now called the Vocational Rehabilitation Impact Center. As a chaplain, McLean accompanied inmates to court, met with their attorneys, and visited them behind bars.
"He knew the judges. He knew the attorneys. He had no problem at all being let into places and given permission and opportunities that others wouldn’t because of his contact with the judges and the prosecutors and the defense attorneys," Denny explained.
McLean also worked with churches throughout the Chicago-area in his role as a minister for Metro Chicago Youth for Christ.
"Every Sunday Gordon would pick me up at 7:45 and we would go to [church]," said Holman. "He would have book signings and then a lot of people would give a donation -- $10, $20. .... He collected a lot of money."
But in 2008 McLean was arrested in west-suburban River Forest, accused of soliciting sex from someone he had previously counseled through the ministry. The arrest was eventually expunged, but soon after he left Metro Chicago Youth for Christ. The circumstances under which he left are unclear.
McLean continued to work with the Cook County Sheriff’s Office for three more years. A spokesman said the office knew nothing about McLean’s arrest for solicitation until 2011. That’s when they finally revoked his access to inmates.
But McLean continues to work with Chicago kids today as part of a new group he formed called Friends With Youth.
"The only thing I want is it to stop," said Allen, fearing that won't happen until McLean stops ministering.
McLean was recently fined $1,000 for violating an order or protection against one of the plaintiffs in the civil suit. His attorney denied a request for an interview.
The local chapter of Youth for Christ did not responded to repeated phone calls for comment, and the national chapter of Youth For Christ said McLean was not employed by them.