Deb Crowley Jones remembers the day her world fell apart.

It had been a happy marriage — or so she thought — living in Florida, weekends at the beach and taking cruises with her husband every year on their anniversary.

She had seen subtle signs that something was amiss, but she always let them go.

After all, when you are in love, a chemical thing happens in your brain where you don’t see red flags, she said.

It was May 14, 2011, when her husband of five years, Gerard Pepin, left for work at the Salvation Army where he was a clinical supervisor and psychotherapist. He returned home a short time later.

“He’s white as a ghost,” she recalled. “I’m saying, ‘What is the matter?’ and he’s not saying anything. Then he said, ‘I’m in lots of trouble.'”

Pepin, who counseled women recovering from drug addiction, was accused of sexual battery against a 24-year-old client.

“I took a deep breath,” Jones, now 60, said. “My legs were like rubber. I said, ‘Did it happen?’ He put his head down and waited a second and said, ‘Yes.'”

Jones told me this story Tuesday as we sat in her living room in Canaan, a long time and far away from what she had thought was an idyllic life.

That life started after she met Pepin, now 65, on an online dating site in 2005. A 1975 Skowhegan Area High School graduate, Jones was a divorcée with one grown son. She was living in Skowhegan and working in the mental health field when she met Pepin, of Bangor, online and they agreed to meet in a public place — a truck stop in Newport. He was a drug and alcohol counselor who also worked with at-risk teens, so they had a lot in common and hit it off right away.

In fact, he swept her off her feet.

“I instantly liked him. He opened the car door, he helped me off with my coat. We were both brought up Catholic, we both worked in the mental health field. I was an in-home support counselor. I didn’t want the date to end. We had a great time.”

That same year, they moved to Florida and were married on the beach in 2006. They took a romantic honeymoon cruise to the islands. Every year after that, they took another cruise.

But something happened on the honeymoon that raised concern. Pepin had a beer when he was supposed to be recovering from alcohol and substance abuse. On anniversary cruises, he spent a lot of time online. His only friends seemed to be former clients, which she did not think was right. But she brushed all those inconsistencies off.

Their home life was happy, she said.

“He treated me like a queen. We cooked meals together. We’d go to the beach every weekend. We had a good life.”

Until May 14, 2011, when he informed her of his crime.

Port Orange and Daytona Beach police came in the middle of the night, searched their house, removed items for evidence and took Pepin to the police station. Jones was devastated.

“I’d spent the last 15 years working with women recovering from sexual abuse and trying to get their lives together and my husband is doing that. I said ‘I’ve got to get out of here.'”

She moved back to Maine and into her house which she had not sold. She spent 1 1/2 years working with Skowhegan and Daytona Beach police, pretending she was sympathetic with Pepin and ultimately getting a taped confession from him about the sexual battery of the client in 2011.

“There were a lot of things I got him to admit to.”

She went through bankruptcy in 2012 and divorced Pepin in 2013. Last year, she moved to Canaan.

After leaving Florida, Jones said she learned her husband had had another woman on the side while they were married. She also got a call from a woman who told her she had a relationship with Pepin when he was a counselor in Bangor. She had been his client and then he hired her to work for him, according to Jones. As a mental health worker who was a mandated reporter, Jones called police.

On June 12, 2014, Pepin was arrested and charged with two counts of sexual battery and one count of sexual misconduct.

Then on Oct. 18 that year, he was charged with vehicular homicide after he and his fourth wife got into a car accident in Long County, Georgia, and she died. On March 28, 2017, he was sentenced to five years in jail and 10 years probation for vehicular homicide and offering to assist in the commission of a suicide, as he and his wife had agreed to commit suicide by vehicle, except he lived and she didn’t.

Pepin currently is in Volusia County Jail in Daytona and has served three years of his five-year sentence.

Jones plans to travel to Florida to be at the S. James Foxman Justice Center in Daytona Beach when Pepin pleads to the 2011 sexual battery case and is sentenced. As of Thursday, the date for that had been postponed twice, and Jones learned Thursday that it will likely be in March.

“This is the last chapter of my book,” Jones said of her plans to be in court. “I want to see the final thing happen.”

She has been interviewed by media in both Maine and Florida about her life with Pepin. She now works part-time in an antiques store and said she is writing a book about her experiences. She also hopes to do speaking engagements to warn others about the dangers of meeting people online. She wants to urge them to get out of a relationship if something doesn’t feel right.

“My goal is to reach out to people that need help and to encourage them to find someone that will believe in them and help them through the journey so they don’t have to do it alone.”

Her experience left her broke and struggling with post traumatic stress, depression and anxiety, she said. She doesn’t want others to go through the same thing.

“Don’t disregard things that you see that are a little odd,” she said. “The main reason for my book is to empower people to reach out to get help from others. You deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter for 30 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

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