The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.
In July 2019, Raymond Vliet, pastor of Old Beth-el General Baptist Church in Flushing, Michigan, (no web presence) was accused of bilking an elderly parishioner out of tens of thousands of dollars. Authorities believed there could be more victims. WNEM-5 reported at the time:
Vliet, pastor of Old Beth-el general Baptist Church in Mt. Morris Township, faces charges of embezzling $20,000 to $50,000 from a vulnerable adult and committing a financial transaction without consent.
Sheriff Robert Pickell said the investigation started after a loan officer noticed something suspicious. Pickell said that happened when Vliet, who had power of attorney for a 91-year-old parishioner and his wife, went to a credit union to get a loan for a pontoon.
“The pastor convinced the victim’s wife before she died to sign over the modular home in the name of the church and it’s Beth-el general Baptist Church. And she did that because she was so taken in by the pastor. He was doing God’s work,” Pickell said.
The loan officer denied the loan request, and while researching, found Vliet also had power of attorney for other members of the church, Pickell said. That’s when she called the Elder Abuse Task Force.
Pickell said when the credit union turned down the loan, the pastor went to another place and did secure a loan. He also got a loan for another vehicle when he learned the 91-year-old man’s vehicle couldn’t pull the pontoon.
When a welfare check was done at the victim’s house, Pickell said officials noticed some things that just weren’t right.
In September 2019, Vliet agreed to “plead no contest to attempted embezzlement from a vulnerable adult $20,000 or more but less than $50,000.”
In November 2019, Vliet attempted to withdraw his no contest plea, alleging that the prosecutor had “pressured” and “strong-armed” him into making the plea.
A Flint-area pastor is alleging he was coerced into accepting a plea deal in connection with an embezzlement case.
The allegations came about during a Monday, Nov. 25 hearing in Genesee Circuit Judge David J. Newblatt’s courtroom for Raymond M. Vliet Jr., 55, who is accused of embezzling money from a 91-year-old man to purchase several items and trips.
Monday’s scheduled hearing for Vliet included a motion to withdraw a plea deal and potential sentencing
Vliet agreed Sept. 20 in Genesee District Court to plead no contest to attempted embezzlement from a vulnerable adult $20,000 or more but less than $50,000.
K.C. Baran, Vliet’s attorney, however, told the court Monday that his client said the plea deal was not voluntary as he felt “pressured” and “strong-armed” after being asked by Newblatt what the claims were that may be made at a future hearing.
“This is just how he feels and how he felt at the time he entered the plea,” said Baran.
Vliet claims he was told he’d face additional charges, increased bond and could remain in jail for up to two years awaiting trial.
Assistant Prosecutor Rebecca Jurva-Brinn argued there was “absolutely nothing” to Vliet’s claims he didn’t understand the plea deal.
Vliet would have to pay restitution to two victims as determined by the probation department as part of the previously negotiated deal which has yet to be approved by the court.
The judge ultimately called for a Dec. 11  evidentiary hearing to hear the claims by Vliet, along with any other witnesses.
In attempting to track down which church, if any, Vliet is pastoring, I came across conflicting reports.
The Daily Gazette reports:
Defense attorney Fred Meiers said he hasn’t yet had an opportunity to review all the evidence against Pastor Vliet and didn’t want to make any comments.
Meiers told The Morning Gazette Radio Show last week that it was unclear from the police report what church his client is affiliated with after being told a Linked In page by Pastor Vliet says he currently serves as pastor at Time of Grace Community Fellowship on Davison Road in Flint. A website for the Flint church does not list Pastor Vliet as being affiliated with their church in any way and a message at the church has not yet been returned. A Facebook Page for Old Beth-El General Baptist Church in Mt. Morris Township also does not list Pastor Vliet and has only three “likes” registered on it, but a sign in front of the church, however, does have Vliet listed as its pastor. No phone number could be obtained for Old Beth-El General Baptist Church.
As of the writing of this post, I found no final disposition of Vliet’s case, or whether he is still a pastor.
I did, however, receive a comment from a man who says the case against Vliet is all lies — a conspiracy between the sheriff’s office and the prosecutor (all grammar and spelling in the original):
Do you believe in truth in reporting? I would think putting your name on this article you would have some integrity. did you investigate any of this information you posted or are you just here to Bash any Pastor to push your atheism?
This man is innocent he has taken the evidence to the FBI to prove that he’s innocent.
And I don’t know any guilty person that would do that. but let me just tell you Bruce when the old woman passed her children tried to come in and steal everything from the old man and put him in a home and they tried to do that before his kids could find out she passed so they could take what little bit they had they actually tried prior to her passing. And when the pastor wouldn’t allow them to do that then they took advantage of the fact they had a deputy in the family working for the Sheriff’s Department and they conjured up all kinds of things and decided if they couldn’t steal it from the old man that they would contact a daughter and start all this BS.
Now the daughter by her own admission in the police report admit she hadn’t had a relationship with her father in over 20 years fact is she wouldn’t even take his call the old woman and the old man told several people this.
Don’t you find it strange the police or no one who had contact with a couple or was in or out of their home didn’t talk to any of them didn’t interview anyone in the church they claimed the pastor had Powers of Attorney over everyone in the church
yeah I’m part of the church and I can tell you not one member does the pastor hold a power of attorney over or even another human being.
In addition everything else that was put in news media what’s a complete lie fabricated by the Sheriff’s Department.
If you want the truth and you want to prove email me we will send you all you need to know the print the truth. Unless of course you’re not interested in the truth the Constitution gives you the right of free speech Integrity gives you the right of Truth in free speech.
This series relies on publicly reported stories. On November 25, 2019, Raymond Vliet pleaded no contest and was ordered to pay restitution. I will update the story to reflect this. If you have any further public news stories about this case that show what I have reported is incorrect, please provide them. I always want these stories to be accurate. You saying something did or didn’t happen is not the same as a verifiable news report. I’ve written 800 of these stories. Occasionally, people contact me, as you have, outraged that I’ve printed a “false” story. Yet, when asked to provide public news stories that support their claims, they are unable to do so.
For future reference, passively-aggressively besmirching my character is so “Christian” on your part. You want my help, yet you insult me.
If you have actual evidence to send me, please use the contact form at the top of the page.
As of today, this commenter has not provided any verifiable public information to support his claim that Vliet is being railroaded by the Genesee County sheriff’s department and county prosecutor. If such evidence is provided — and I did a through web search on this story — I will gladly amend this post.
Update on October 26, 2020:
7th Judicial Circuit Court records state that on December 11, 2019, the judge approved Vliet’s motion to withdraw his plea. As of October 12, 2020, Vliet’s case is awaiting trial.
Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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