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Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor John Wood and His Family Guilty of Stealing Over $500,000 From Church

ashton stombres

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.

The family that steals together, stays together . . . in prison.

John Wood, pastor of Eastside Church of Christ in Stockton, California, his son James Wood, his daughter Elizabeth Stombres, along with her husband Ashton Stombres, stole over $500,000 from the church. All of the convicted thieves were church board members. Both John and James Wood pleaded guilty to grand theft charges, Elizabeth Stombres pleaded guilty to conspiracy, grand theft, and aggravated white-collar crime charges, and Ashton Stombres was found guilty last Friday of conspiracy, grand theft, and aggravated white-collar crime enhancement.

ABC-10 reports:

A Stockton man was found guilty on Friday, Jan. 21 of pocketing more than $500,000 in assets from the Eastside Church of Christ in Stockton.

The church was suffering from financial distress, according to the San Joaquin District Attorney’s Office and its Board of Trustees voted to sell church assets.

District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar said 22-year-old Ashton Stombres conspired with three other board members to pocket the profits rather than turn them back over to the church.

Stombres was found guilty on Friday of conspiracy, grand theft and aggravated white-collar crime enhancement for causing a loss of $500,000 or more.

The three other board members include John Wood, the pastor of Eastside Church of Christ, his son James Wood, and daughter Elizabeth Stombres — wife of Ashton Stombres.

Both John and James Wood pled guilty to grand theft charges, while Elizabeth Stombres pled guilty to conspiracy, grand theft and aggravated white-collar crime charges.

The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office released the following statement:

Today, District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar announced defendant Ashton Stombres, 22, was found guilty of conspiracy and grand theft charges, with an aggravated white-collar crime enhancement for causing a loss of $500,000 or more.

“Thank you to the White Collar Crime Division, Deputy District Attorney Todd Turner for his thorough prosecution of the four defendants, and to Sheriff’s Office Deputies and Detectives for their investigative work on this case,” said District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar. “My office aggressively prosecutes those who to commit harm to our community, whether in physical, emotional, or financial capacity.”

According to the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office, Ashton Stombres, with codefendants Elizabeth Stombres, John Wood, and James Wood, embezzled funds from the Eastside Church of Christ of Stockton. John Wood, the pastor of Eastside Church of Christ of Stockton, his son James Wood, and daughter Elizabeth Stombres sat on the Board of Trustees for the Church. During that time, the Eastside Church of Christ of Stockton was in financial distress and the Board voted liquidate assets to save the parish. Once the building sold, however, the defendants unlawfully kept the funds for themselves.

John Wood and James Wood pled to grand theft charges, while Elizabeth Stombres pled to grand theft, conspiracy, and the aggravated white-collar crime charges. Ashton Stombres was found guilty today and will return to court before the Honorable Judge Patrick Smalling for sentencing in the near future.

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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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