Tag Archive: Fraud

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Loren Copp Sentenced on Sex Crime Charges

loren copp

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 following story will leave you shaking your head, wondering how the pastor in question was able to do what he did.

In April 2017,  Loren Copp, an Evangelical pastor, owner of DoJo Pizza, and all-round con-artist was arrested on charges of producing child pornography. The River Front Times reported at the time:

Loren Copp, the Dojo Pizza owner targeted in a long-running criminal investigation, was arrested Thursday afternoon on charges of producing child pornography.

Federal agents took the 47-year-old into custody about 3:45 p.m. outside the Bevo Mill church where he once taught karate, ran a pizza restaurant, operated a school and raised four teenage girls, according to a witness and his attorney.

The federal complaint claims investigators searched “multiple types of digital media” and discovered an image of a minor performing oral sex on Copp and another of Copp having vaginal sex with the girl. The minor, listed as “Jane Doe 1” in the document, identified Copp as the man in the photos, according to the complaint. She says she was about twelve in the first photo and fifteen or sixteen in the second.

Copp was lured on Thursday to the dojo, which had been boarded up since a law enforcement raid in October, by a city building inspector who called to say someone had broken in, Copp’s friend John Albrecht tells the Riverfront Times.

Copp had asked his friend to drive with him, because he worried he was being set up, Albrecht said.

….

Copp was the subject of an RFT feature story in December after a series of federal raids on Dojo Pizza. He was taken into police custody for a couple of days in October on suspicion of child endangerment, but he was released without charges.

He has maintained his innocence, blaming the investigation on a disgruntled former live-in volunteer who he’d ejected from the dojo. Court documents filed in support of the early raids revealed police were investigating accusations of human trafficking, alleging Copp forced the teens to work for free in the pizzeria. He denied the charge. The girls were staying him because their parents were on drugs, imprisoned or otherwise unable to care for them, he said. Two of the girls had lived with him so long, they called him their father, and he considered them his daughters.

Parents, visitors to the dojo and one of the girls interviewed by the RFT supported him.

The charges of production of child pornography are new.

Agents who’d previously raided the dojo, a former church in October and November, had been seen taking evidence boxes and computers from the building.

In interviews, Copp has suggested investigators have been trying to set him up and possibly planted evidence. He noted neighbors claim to have seen men who appeared to be law enforcement officers climb in through a back window before one of the raids.

Twenty-four hours after Copp’s arrest, The River Front Times reported:

Dojo Pizza owner Loren Copp arrived handcuffed and shackled at the ankles on Friday in federal court for his first appearance since his arrest on child pornography charges.

His attorney had dropped him overnight. Some of his strongest supporters have backed away now that the FBI says it has photographic proof he sexually abused a girl over the course of several years, starting with a stomach-churning snapshot of the two of them in a sex act when she was just twelve years old.

Until a series of law enforcement raids in October and November, he’d lived with four teenage girls in a converted church at 4601 Morgan Ford Road in Bevo Mill where he taught karate, established a school and operated a pizzeria.

Federal authorities claim they found the pornographic photos on a computer hard drive seized during one of the raids. Investigators showed the pictures to the girl on Wednesday, and she identified herself and Copp, according to the criminal complaint released on Thursday following his arrest.

Tauna Cowin, whose two oldest daughters lived with Copp most of their lives, says she cried all night after reading the newly revealed allegations.

“If he did do this, I hope he rots in jail,” she told the Riverfront Times. “I’m sorry, but I hope he rots in jail.”

Cowin knew Copp, a former pastor, through her kids’ school and church. When she was losing her home about a decade ago, she sent a son and the two girls to live with him and his wife at the time. The boy eventually moved on, but the girls stayed and began calling Copp “Dad” even though he wasn’t their biological father.

Cowin says the girls previously told her Copp never abused them, but she hadn’t talked to them since his arrest. They have been in foster care since the Dojo Pizza raids last fall.

“I just don’t know how to freakin’ take this,” Cowin said through tears. “It’s hitting me hard. I thought I knew this man, he was my pastor.”

Copp was the subject of an RFT feature story in December and has claimed he was just helping kids whose parents couldn’t take care of them.

Attorney Justin Meehan, a longtime martial artist, had advised Copp for free in the months after the raids. Law enforcement affidavits had described Copp as the target of a “Labor Trafficking and Sexual Abuse” investigation, allegations that the lawyer thought lacked much in the way of support.

He has a policy of not taking on clients who are accused of hurting kids, but a fellow martial artist vouched for Copp, and Meehan eventually agreed to get involved — with the caveat that he’d walk if there was more to it than a weak trafficking case.

Meehan felt “blindsided” Thursday when he learned prosecutors were now pursuing a charge of producing child pornography, he said. True to his word, he has decided to cut ties with Copp.

Copp also owned and operated Ma-ji Ryu Christian Karate Association. City officials seized DoJo Pizza’s building to satisfy a $13,940 tax liability. The building was bought at sheriff’s auction for $35,714.

Copp’s past is filled with accusations of malfeasance and financial misconduct. In 2013, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported:

Bargain hunters snapped up 40 years of Southwest Christian Church’s history last weekend. Tables, chairs — even pots and pans used for countless fellowship meals — were sold off as part of the church’s closure.

Southwest Christian has been wrangling with a tangle of debt tied to a failed $2 million church expansion that congregants helped finance. The project sits unfinished at 1694 Smizer Station Road, near Highway 141.

Now the remaining congregants who haven’t scattered will gather Sunday for one final service at a church some have attended for two generations.

At first glance, it seems like a tragic but familiar tale of a church getting too ambitious, growing faster than it ought.

But Douglas Lay, a former pastor at the church, is among those who tell a different story.

By his account, Southwest Christian historically played it smart, avoiding debt and making do with its aging and modest building.

At least it did until it ran into Loren Copp — a pastor and builder with a history of failed financial dealings.

“He left them up a creek without a paddle,” said Lay, who led the church in the late 1990s. “There are good people there.”

Copp, who became the church’s pastor in 2007, was the pastor when Southwest Christian decided to support the expansion project that would include a Christian high school, even though similar efforts in St. Louis County had failed in recent years. It started out at $1.5 million, then grew to $2 million.

Church members helped pitch in on the expansion by buying bonds, using the existing building as collateral.

Today, the project is stalled, mired in mediation with the original developer and lien holders claiming they haven’t been paid.

Copp has since moved on.

….

Church leaders knew that the building project would be a major undertaking. But they believed they had a plan that would both underwrite the expense and satisfy the church’s goal to expand its outreach.

Under the plan, the new Christian high school would lease the expanded church building during the week.

And to help funnel students to the school and broaden the church’s ministry, some members supported an existing K-8 school Copp was involved with in south St. Louis.
Both schools are called Living Faith Christian Academy and are governed independently from the church by Copp’s own nonprofit — Ma Ji Ryu Christian Karate Association. Copp uses his martial arts skills to minister.

In 2011, Copp touted the high school project, saying it would open that fall. He brushed off skeptics, who pointed to other failed school projects in the area.

The schools would be funded by tuition, not church donations.

“This is a school that is going to be run as a business,” he told the Post-Dispatch at the time, adding: “If it doesn’t work, you’ll have a story to write.”

The high school did open. But students could only meet in certain sections of the building because the project was incomplete.

A 2011 St Louis Post-Dispatch story had this to say about Copp’s checkered past:

His [Copp] past, however, is marked with bankruptcy, unpaid bills and allegations of deception and poor management.

Illinois records show he owes nearly $10,000 in child support. When he moved to St. Louis in 2003, lawsuits and unpaid bills from Ohio, Indiana and Illinois followed, nipping at his ankles. Most stemmed from construction projects Copp started and never finished.

Problems continued here at Stocker Construction, which fired him from a residential construction manager position in 2006 for severe losses on projects Copp oversaw, said a representative of the now-defunct company.

A year earlier, a judge approved a negotiated settlement of $203,400 to satisfy a suit brought against Copp by the Illinois attorney general. The sum was said to be a portion of what nine customers were owed.

Copp filed for bankruptcy in St. Louis around that time and has repaid just a token amount.

“If he is so conscientious about a soda, how does he feel about our house and other people’s houses that he walked out on with hefty sums of money?” said Ofelia Nikolova, 54, a party in the lawsuit and a former assistant professor in French at the Southern Illinois University Carbondale. “Tell him to come back and pay me. I’ll take $50,000.”

March 3, 2018, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported:

A former pastor and owner of a St. Louis pizza restaurant and martial arts studio facing federal child sex charges will represent himself at his trial next week.

Loren “Sensei” Copp will have standby counsel, but told U.S. District Judge Audrey Fleissig Monday that he wanted to represent himself.
He faces nine counts in all, including production, attempted production and possession of child pornography and the use of interstate facilities to persuade or coerce a minor to engage in sexual activity.

Copp has pleaded not guilty to the charges. He also provided a list of five alibi witnesses in a court filing that says they will testify that he was not “at the scene of the crime” on specific dates.

That scene, according to prosecutors, was a combination pizza shop, martial arts studio and youth shelter at 4601 Morganford Road that was raided multiple times in the fall of 2015 after claims that Copp was not adequately caring for or paying underage employees.

DoJo Pizza operated as a nonprofit to support free karate classes, its website once said.

Investigators said they found child porn during the searches, and subsequent charges claim Copp sexually abused multiple young girls.

One was between 10 and 13 when Copp first fondled her, prosecutors say in court filings. He later raped her, they say, and she couldn’t accurately count the number of times she was abused. Filings say Copp also made videos of the sex acts, and she witnessed him abusing another resident of the shelter. He had child porn featuring the first teen and another underage girl, and also tried taking photos of two girls undressing, prosecutors say.

Prosecutors have also said they will use statements Copp made to a fellow inmate at the St. Charles County Jail and phone calls and emails from his time behind bars awaiting trial.

….

On April 11, 2018, Copp told the court he is innocent and that there’s an explanation for the child porn on his computer. Copp was later found guilty of eight counts of sex crimes against underage girls.

Yesterday, Copp was sentenced to sixty-five years in federal prison. He previously rejected a plea deal that would have sent him to prison for fifteen years.

KMOV-4 reported:

According to prosecutors, several underage girls lived at Dojo Pizza, which is located on Morganford in the Bevo Mill neighborhood. Copp either had sole custody or care of the girls because their parents were incarcerated or homeless, authorities said. Copp groomed, sexually abused, and raped two young girls who had been in his custody since 2009.

The sexual acts were recorded on a cell phone or video recorder.

Copp allegedly forced the girls to work at the pizza shop and did not pay them appropriately or provide consistent food. He is also accused of threatening to kick the girls out when they didn’t work, which would leave them homeless.

During the trial, evidence of Facebook messages between three girls and a fake account Copp used pretending to be a 13-year-old girl named “Chrissy”. The profile picture on the account was of a young girl. Investigators found that photo on Copp’s computer along with other pornographic images of the three victims that were sent to “Chrissy” Facebook page.

Investigators found conversations that referenced sexual acts that occurred between the three girls. In addition, subscriber information and backup emails used for the “Chrissy” Facebook account, as well as a Yahoo email account, were linked to Copp.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Keith Collins and His Wife Accused of Theft

pastor keith collins
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.

Keith Collins, pastor of Church of the Overcomer in Trainer, Pennsylvania, and his wife Carolyn stand accused of embezzling over $1,000,000 from elderly, incapacitated adults.

The Delco Times reports:

A former Democratic candidate for Delaware County Council, his wife and her sister were charged Monday in a scheme to embezzle more than $1 million from approximately 112 elderly victims through court-appointed guardianships.

Pastors Keith and Carolyn Collins, of the Church of the Overcomer in Trainer, and Gloria F. Byars, sister of Carolyn Collins, turned themselves in Monday morning on charges including theft, conspiracy, receiving stolen property and failure to make required dispensation of funds.

“Gloria Byars, Keith Collins and Carolyn Collins were entrusted to care for our most vulnerable elderly citizens,” said Delaware County District Attorney Katayoun Copeland at a press conference announcing the charges. “Instead of simply doing their jobs, they cruelly embezzled over $1 million from over 100 incapacitated individuals, people who could not make decisions for themselves.”

The total amount of fraud alleged comes to $1,009,172 and involves 108 victims in Philadelphia, Delaware, Bucks, Berks, Montgomery and Lancaster counties. Copeland indicated another four victims from Philadelphia would also be included in those roles. All of the victims are over the age of 60 and many are in their 80s and 90s, she said.

“The impact of Byars’ and the Collins’ actions were far reaching, depleting significant amounts of monies from their wards from six different counties,” Copeland said. “To add insult to injury, Keith and Carolyn Collins, as pastors, used their church to help funnel the stolen money, betraying not only their duties as court appointed guardians but their duties as ministers of God.”

Copeland said the defendants used the ill-gotten gains on personal expenses including luxury cars, high-end clothing and accessories from Louis Viton, Jimmy Choo and Coach, airline trips and Hilton Hotel stays worth thousands of dollars, and a time share.

….

Byars and Carolyn Collins had no comment Monday, but Keith Collins, a longtime staple of the church community and unsuccessful Democratic candidate in the 2011 county council race, denied the allegations.

“I’m a pastor and if there were donations made, people are allowed to make donations to the church,” he told reporters outside the county courthouse in Media.

When confronted with accusations of theft, Collins indicated he did not know what the specific allegations were, but that taking care of people was his “life’s work” and that he works with people that no one else wants to work with.

“You’re welcome to come to the church and find out about us,” he later said while being led out of district court in handcuffs to a waiting law enforcement vehicle.

 

Black Collar Crime: Methodist Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell’s Co-Defendant Pleads Guilty to Fraud

kirbyjon caldwell

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 March 2018, Kirbyjon Caldwell, pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas, was indicted and charged with “conspiracy to commit wire fraud, six counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiring to commit money laundering and three counts of money laundering.”

KTBS-3 reports:

A Shreveport financial planner and the pastor of a Houston, Texas, megachurch are accused of bilking investors of more than $1 million.

Thursday, a federal grand jury returned a 13-count indictment against Gregory Alan Smith, 55, of Shreveport and Kirbyjon H. Caldwell, 64, of Houston.

Smith is the owner of Greg Smith Financial Group. Caldwell is pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church, a 16,000-member megachurch in Houston. He was an unofficial advisor to former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Smith and Caldwell are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, six counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiring to commit money laundering and three counts of money laundering.

According to the indictment, Smith used his influence and status as the operator and manager of Smith Financial Group in Shreveport, and Caldwell used his influence and status as pastor at his church to lure investors to pay more than $1 million to invest in Historical Chinese bonds.

These bonds were issued by the former Republic of China prior to losing power to the communist government in 1949. They are not recognized by China’s current government and have no investment value.

Smith and Caldwell promised high rates of return, sometimes three to 15 times the value of the investments, according to the indictme.

Federal authorities allege Smith and Caldwell used investors’ money to pay personal loans, credit card balances, mortgages, vehicle purchases and other personal expenses.

….

The Houston Chronicle adds:

A prominent Houston pastor and spiritual adviser to President George W. Bush has been indicted on federal charges he sold more than more than $1 million in worthless Chinese bonds to elderly and vulnerable investors, according to federal authorities.

Kirbyjon H. Caldwell, 64, and Shreveport financial planner Gregory Alan Smith, 55, were indicted Thursday on 13 charges accusing them of wire fraud and money laundering, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Louisiana said in a Thursday statement.

Caldwell is accused of using his position as the senior pastor of the Windsor Village United Methodist Church to lure more than $1 million in investments into historic Chinese bonds that are not recognized by the Chinese government. He and Smith told investors they could see returns as high as 15 times their initial investment, prosecutors said.

The indictment accuses the men of cheating 29 investors between April 2013 and August 2014 of nearly $3.5 million for what were described as “mere collectible memoribilia.”

….

Caldwell, a Houston native, developed a friendship with George W. Bush when he was governor of Texas, and he offered the benediction to Bush’s 2001 inauguration as president. He also performed the wedding for Bush’s daughter, Jenna, in Crawford in Central Texas.

Caldwell co-authored a 1999 book, The Gospel of Good Success. His work is credited with helping create the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives under Bush.

….

Yesterday, Caldwell’s co-conspirator, Gregory Alan Smith, pleaded guilty to wire fraud.

Click 2 Houston reports:

The man who is a co-defendant with Houston Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell in a case accusing them of defrauding investors of millions of dollars pleaded guilty Tuesday to wire fraud.

Gregory Alan Smith is a Shreveport, Louisiana, investment advisor. Caldwell is senior pastor at Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston.

The pair told investors that the historical Chinese bonds, which reportedly have been in default since 1939 and aren’t recognized by the current Chinese government, could provide exorbitant, risk-free returns on their investments and that the bonds would be sold by Caldwell to a third party or redeemed by the Chinese government, court documents state.

The indictment states Smith recruited the victims through his connections to prospective investors, telling them he was an investment advisor and had personally invested hundreds of thousands in the deal.

Caldwell then told investors to wire the money to a bank account controlled by his attorney or an account of a limited liability company of which he is a member, the indictment reads. Caldwell is accused of then transferring the money to his personal account, the personal account of Smith or a Mexican business associate.

Caldwell and Smith promised investors they would be paid and offered a wide range of excuses for why they were not seeing returns, according to court documents.

Caldwell, 64, received $760,000, which he used for personal expenses, including mortgage payments, the indictment claims.

Caldwell’s limited liability company also received $1 million, of which $175,000 was transferred to Caldwell, according to the indictment.

Smith received $1 million of investor funds, which he used for luxury vehicles, the indictment claimed.

None of the investors received any money back, according to the court documents.

Smith faces five to seven years in prison, a $1 million fine, restitution, forfeiture and five years of supervised release.

Caldwell continues to insist that he is innocent. His trial is scheduled to begin on December 2, 2019.

 

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Raymond Vliet Accused of Conning Elderly Congregants

pastor raymond vliet

Raymond Vliet, pastor of Old Beth-el General Baptist Church in Flushing, Michigan, (no web presence) stands accused of bilking an elderly parishioner out of tens of thousands of dollars. Authorities believe there could be more victims.  WNEM-5 reports:

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.

Sheriff Pickell said, “That’s a pastor that should go to hell.” And all God’s people and atheists too said AMEN!

Black Collar Crime: Megachurch Pastor Fred Shipman and His Son Caught in Alleged Ponzi Scheme

pastor whitney shipman

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.

Fred Shipman and his son Whitney, both pastors of Winners Church in West Palm Beach, Florida, are facing lawsuits that allege they were part of a ponzi scheme that bilked people out of millions of dollars.

Charisma News reports:

The pastor of a megachurch in West Palm Beach, Fla., is refusing to hand over $1.7 million despite claims by federal prosecutors that the funds belong to people caught up in a $30 million Ponzi scheme run by a former church director.

According to the Palm Beach Post, U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenberg ordered $1 million in assets belonging to Winners Church, a suburban congregation in West Palm Beach, and to church pastors Fred Shipman and Whitney Shipman frozen.

Those assets will remain frozen until Rosenberg issues a ruling on their disposition.

The dispute is part of the fallout from an alleged Ponzi scheme run by Canadian financial commentator Harold Seigel and Florida resident Jose Aman. The duo allegedly convinced hundreds of people to invest millions in Argyle Coin, LLC, which claimed to be a cryptocurrency business related to diamonds.

According to a dozen lawsuits recently filed in Florida and elsewhere, the men were actually running an elaborate scam. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced on Tuesday (May 21) it was shutting down the operation, describing it as a Ponzi scheme.

Some of their money turned up at Winners Church, which boasts a congregation of more than 2,000 and had listed Aman as a “director” on state records.

According to a new lawsuit, Aman gave $1 million to the church from 2014 to 2018 and gave church founder Bishop Fred Shipman $700,000. He also allegedly gave Fred Shipman’s son, Winners Church senior pastor Whitney Shipman, around $40,000 during that same time period.

On Thursday, Amie Berlin, an attorney for the SEC, told U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenberg that the church and the Shipmans should return the funds, given that the SEC can retrieve money for victims of the scheme.

But Carl Schoeppl, the lawyer representing the Shipmans and the church, argued Winners Church can’t be forced to turn over the money because it’s a nonprofit religious institution.

He pointed to a Florida statute that allows religious organizations to accept funds “received in good faith,” noting that neither the church nor the Shipmans were aware of Aman’s operation.

Bishop Shipman has called the funds “God’s blessings” and told the judge that giving them up would have “a ripple effect in everything we do from this point on.”

Lawyers for the U.S. government argue federal law supersedes the state-level statute, although churches have been spared incidentally in the past from different clawback situations.

….

Black Collar Crime: Was Pastor Robbie Conn Found Not Guilty on Fraud Charges?

busted

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 2017, I wrote a post detailing alleged social security fraud  by William “Robbie” Conn, pastor of Jeffersonville Assembly of God in Jeffersonville, Kentucky, and his wife Tonya.

Lex-18 reported at the time:

A federal grand jury indicted a Montgomery County pastor and his wife. Both are accused of committing fraud involving the Social Security Disability Insurance and Medicare programs.

The indictments for William “Robbie” Conn and his wife Tonya came down earlier this month in United States District Court for the the Eastern District of Kentucky in Lexington.

They allege Conn and his wife defrauded the government programs of more than $100,000 over six years.

The court documents said William Conn, a longtime pastor at Jeffersonville Assembly of God, learned he had a heart problem that required surgery in May 2009.

According to the indictment, Conn applied for Social Security Disability, and it was granted.

The indictment alleges the church board then agreed to pay William Conn’s salary to his wife Tonya. In doing so, “William ‘Robbie’ Conn could receive social security benefits, while still receiving a salary from Jeffersonville Assembly of God,” the indictment states.

It goes on to allege Conn continued to receive benefits while working until 2015.

Conn and his wife both face seven counts each with a possible five years of prison time or more for each count.

We reached out to Conn and his wife several different times but never heard back.

Churchgoers said off-camera that they were shocked by the allegations. One said Conn called the accusations “not true” at a service Wednesday night.

Late last year, a commenter said the charges against the Conn’s had been dropped. I asked her for evidence of this, but she never responded. In December 2018,someone sent me evidence that clearly refutes what the aforementioned commenter said. In September 2018, Robbie Conn signed a plea agreement, admitting his guilt. As part of the plea agreement, the charges against his wife were dropped. You can read the plea agreement here.

On September 28, 2018, the Mt. Sterling Herald reported:

William “Robbie” Conn, pastor at Jeffersonville Assembly of God Church, pleaded guilty last week to a federal charge against him.

Robbie Conn and his wife, Tanya D. Conn, were charged in a seven-count indictment in July 2017 with defrauding the government of more than $100,000 over six years.

At a pretrial conference Sept. 19, Robbie Conn agreed to be rearraigned and pleaded guilty to one count, according to court documents. He also waived the right to appeal the guilty plea and conviction and except for claims of ineffective counsel, he waived the right to attack collaterally the guilty plea, conviction and sentence, those documents show.

Sentencing is scheduled for 2 p.m. Jan. 24 in U.S. District Court before Chief District Judge Karen K. Caldwell.

Robbie Conn was allowed to remain free on bond until sentencing.

He faces a potential sentence of not more than five years imprisonment, a fine of not more than $250,000 and a term of supervised release of not more than three years.

The charges against Tanya Conn are to be dismissed.

As part of his plea agreement with prosecutors, Robbie Conn admitted that he made a false document and in that document contained a statement that was false, according to court documents.

In the plea agreement, Robbie Conn confesses that he acted “knowingly and willfully” and that the document pertained to a matter within the jurisdiction of the executive branch of the U.S. government, namely the Social Security Administration and Medicare, court documents show.

As part of the plea agreement, Robbie Conn admitted to a set of facts set out by prosecutors, according to court documents. They include:

  • That Robbie Conn was a pastor at the Jeffersonville Assembly of God from a period of at least 2009 through the date of the indictment.
  • In May 2009, Robbie Conn applied for disability benefits related to a heart condition.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) approved Conn’s application and paid him monthly benefits for himself and his three children from then until the date of the indictment.

Two primary factors for SSA disability benefit eligibility are a disabling condition and inability to work as a result.

  • In February of 2010, Robbie Conn received a heart transplant. He returned to the Jeffersonville Assembly of God as early as May 2010. Part of his return included performance of funeral and other miscellaneous, religiously affiliated services for which he was compensated, but never informed SSA of his change in status, that is, his ability to return to work.
  • On Aug. 14, 2015, Robbie Conn visited the SSA office in Lexington. He completed a SSA Statement of Claimant or Other Person Form (Form SSA-795), wherein he falsely stated that he does not work or do anything that could be perceived as work such as volunteer. He signed this document under penalties of perjury.
  • At the time he signed this document, Robbie Conn knew he had been regularly preaching at the Jeffersonville Assembly of God, as well as at other religious-based gatherings, since at least May of 2010.
  • As a result of Robbie Conn’s conduct, he and his children received $111,382 from the SSA, to which they were not entitled. Conn also received $26,808.87 in medical services funded by Medicaid, the funding for which he was not entitled.

Tanya Conn was reportedly receiving her husband’s salary during this period.

As part of the plea, Robbie Conn agreed to cooperate fully with the U.S. Attorney’s Office by making a full and complete financial disclosure, including a statement or affidavit identifying all assets in which he has any interest.

As you can see, neither Pastor Conn or his wife were found innocent. Robbie Conn admitted he was guilty, and as part of his plea agreement the charges against his wife were dropped.

This story is a good example of why I asked for evidence to the contrary when people claim a posted story is wrong. Just because a church member, family member or supporter says a Black Collar criminal is innocent doesn’t make it so. Sadly, people have been known to lie just to protect the “good” name of their pastors or other church leaders. What matters is facts.

Robbie Conn’e sentencing has been postponed.

Robbie Conn was sentenced to six months home detention. Astoundingly, Conn still thinks his arrest and conviction was all a big misunderstanding; that he didn’t intentionally lie to government officials.  The Mt. Sterling Advocate reports:

In a previous letter to the judge Robbie Conn wrote that “my continuing treatment is very costly. I have so many bills that I am doing my very best to pay on. It was never my intent to do any wrong or to defraud anyone in any way. Me and my wife have always worked very hard, paid our taxes and have always tried to be honest and respectable citizens. I had no choice but to do what I needed to do in order to live.”

Conn’s attorney, James Lowry IV of Lexington, told the judge that his client did not intentionally lie. He said Conn simply shifted the administrative work of the church to his wife, Tanya, after his heart transplant while he continued to preach.

….

Prosecutors claimed Robbie Conn lied to the government by saying he was not working while he continued preaching after his heart transplant, collected benefits and his wife collected his pay.

Conn reportedly stated in federal documents he was unable to work. During this time he served as pastor at Jeffersonville Assembly, where he still remains, according to prosecutors.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kate Anderson asked the judge to balance the need for punishment against the defendant’s health. She encouraged the judge to establish some sort of deterrent to others who might consider breaking the law.

This “was a much more complex deception than giving a bit of misinformation,” she claimed.

 

Black Collar Crime: Catholic Priest Douglas Haefner Accused of Stealing $500,000 From Church

douglas haefner

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.

Douglas Haefner, pastor of St. Matthias Church in Somerset, New Jersey, stands accused of stealing $500,000 from the church he faithfully pastored for twenty-seven years.

Bishop James F. Checchio said of the matter:

(Haefner) came to see me in my office, and he said, ‘I need help I’ve been sick. My physical but also emotional problems that I’ve been struggling with are feeding off each other. Some of my emotional problems have led to compulsive behavior on my part, and the compulsive behavior cost money I borrowed money from the parish.

In a letter to the 3,250 families on the roll at St Mathias, Checchio wrote:

It is with sadness that I must inform you that Father’s resignation coincides with serious questions and concerns that recently have been raised regarding the handling of parish finances. Father came to me about his own health problems and these financial issues in recent weeks and has expressed his sorrow for his actions and for letting us all down.

Astoundingl,  the finances at St. Mathias have not been audited since 2009. According to church law, St. Mathias should have had an active priest-appointed financial council that met at least quarterly to review the church’s budget and prepare its annual report. The financial council hasn’t been active in years. This left the fox in the hen house — Father Haefner — with the duty to prepare the church’s annual financial reports. What could go wrong, right?

The allegations against Heaefner are being investigated by local law enforcement.

An attorney for Haefner, Matthew Adams, released the following statement on behalf of his client:

To know Father Doug is to know a caring man who has spent decades ministering to parishioners from all walks of life, including during times of extreme peril. Father Doug has indeed stepped back from his public ministry to address serious health issues. It is quite unfortunate that, as he steps out of the public, some have used the opportunity to violate the confidentiality that, as a matter of law, attaches to those health-related issues. With respect to the allegations being leveled against him, Father Doug enjoys the same constitutional presumption of innocence as any other citizen.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Gary Ray Accused of Diverting Donations for His Own Use

pastor gary ray

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.

Gary Ray, pastor of Restoration Church on Camano Island, Washington stands accused of stealing relief funds meant for disaster victims while he was pastor at Oso Community Chapel.

Stanwood Camano News reports:

At the Oso Community Chapel, following the 2014 mudslide that killed 43 people, Ray is accused of stealing $40,000 in donations for the chapel and affected families. At least $6,000 also was reported taken from Restoration Church Camano, which Ray started and where he worked after being fired in 2014 from the Oso church, according to charging documents.

The investigation started on Camano when the Island County Sheriff’s Office was contacted in August 2017 with concerns of possible theft from the church. Investigators later learned about the Oso loss and an earlier problem with a church in California, according to reports.
Ray admitted he collected money under false pretenses at both local churches and transferred it into his personal bank account with no intention of using the money for the reasons given to donors, according to the investigative reports.

As pastor on Camano, Ray wrote several Meditation columns published in the Stanwood Camano News. In one from January 2015, Ray wrote, “… success should be pursued. … The prevailing view links success with wealth and status.”

Oso Community Chapel released the following statement:

The leadership of Oso Community Chapel understands that there are many questions regarding the recent allegations against former pastor Gary Ray. While the investigation is still ongoing and the impending court procedures are in their infancy, we are not in a position to respond to questions at this point. Oso Chapel always has and continues to operate with integrity and transparency concerning finances, ministry pertaining to mudslide families, and ministerial operations at large. The allegations against Gary Ray are not a reflection on the rest of the leadership during the time of his forced resignation, the current board and pastoral staff, nor the heart of the members of Oso Community Chapel.

We are deeply saddened that this has come about in the midst of the terrible tragedy of March 2014. We are confident that those in the community of Oso have seen the way in which the leadership of Oso Chapel and its members have endeavored to show the love of Christ through relationship and outreach. We are also confident in the strength of the entire community of Oso and in our ability to come together in the midst of a challenge such as this. We continue to pray, as we always do, for God’s love to pour out into every home and heart of all who are impacted by the slide, and now, those impacted by these recent allegations.

While I understand the church wants to be viewed as the victim here, before I am willing to give them a pass, I would like to know what oversight and controls were in place regarding church funds. Far too often, Evangelical pastors are given complete control over church finances and accounts. Churches “trust” that their pastors will be honest and ethical — and most of the time they are. However, I subscribe the the Ronald Reagan school of thought: Trust but Verify.

The Daily Herald adds:

“I believe that all are here for a purpose, and that purpose is to love God and love others,” Ray told The Daily Herald in 2014. “… It is in times like these that character is developed, and by faith, hope is found.”

His salary in Oso had been around $66,000 a year.

Ray started Restoration not long after the slide. The Oso chapel leaders were not on board with the plan, which created tension, according to court papers. There also were questions about his handling of money, though the timeline for that is unclear. He became frustrated when he was not allowed free rein with fundraising, police were told.

Ray was fired from the Oso church in May 2014, after about four years on the job. Many of the details were kept quiet. His bosses there later told investigators they checked with his former church in California, and it also described problems around him and finances.

At Restoration Church Camano, police believe that Ray wrote the bylaws in a way that avoided restrictions on his use of church funds. At that time, Ray reported that he was drawing an annual salary of $30,000, but it wasn’t in writing and others said that didn’t sound accurate.

A Baptist network affiliated with Restoration was sending Ray another $2,500 a month for the new church, deputies were told. He’d passed on the network’s offer to hire a bookkeeping firm. Members of the congregation, meanwhile, said they were told the Baptist network was handling Restoration’s accounts.

Among other allegations, people at Restoration said that Ray took up collections for projects that were not completed. In particular, prosecutors cited $6,000 raised, purportedly for new carpet. References to the money disappeared from the church’s records, and the carpet never showed up, according to court papers.

Some at the Camano church have alleged much greater losses.

Until the criminal investigation came to Oso, church leaders there were unaware of the $40,000 in reportedly diverted checks, prosecutors say. Those funds were in addition to about $350,000 that was donated to victims through the church, distributed and tracked. The chapel was one of several local and regional organizations that received and managed disaster relief efforts.

Black Collar Crime: Baptist Pastor Henry Lyons Accused of Criminal Financial Behavior — Again

henry lyons

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.

Henry Lyons, pastor of New Salem Missionary Baptist Church in Temple Terrace, Florida, spent five years in prison for extortion and money laundering. Lyons used the proceeds of his crimes to feed the hungry and minister to the poor. Just kidding. Lyons used the money to fund his opulent lifestyle. After his release from prison in 2004, Lyons became the pastor of Salem Missionary Baptist. He was fired from his job last year. Now, it seems, Lyons has returned to his old thieving ways, proving yet again that a leopard can’t change its spots.

Corey Johnson, a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times, writes:

Before he was sent to prison nearly 20 years ago, the Rev. Henry Lyons apologized for a litany of sins. Extortion and laundering of church funds. Hidden properties, secret mistresses and an opulent lifestyle that included luxury cars and a personal chef.

But the former St. Petersburg pastor who once presided over the nation’s largest black religious organization never said a word about Rochelle McCanns.

McCanns is a convicted prostitute who rose to an administrative position at Lilly Endowment Inc., an Indianapolis-based philanthropy that is one of the world’s wealthiest charitable foundations.

In the 1990s, records show, Lyons secretly funneled thousands in National Baptist Convention U.S.A. money to McCanns, including $10,000 donated by the Anti-Defamation League for the rebuilding of black churches damaged by arson.

Authorities knew McCanns received the diverted money but she was never charged with a crime. Prosecutors and investigators say they were focused on bigger targets.

Now a Tampa Bay Times investigation finds the relationship between the two continued decades later in a new Lyons’ scheme, this one targeting Lilly’s generosity.

Interviews and records show McCanns and Lyons arranged to have more than $130,000 in Lilly money sent to New Salem Missionary Baptist Church in Temple Terrace, which made Lyons pastor in 2004 after his release from prison. The stated purpose was to help finance youth programs and community service work. Records show most of the funds ended up in accounts controlled by Lyons.

McCanns, 70 and now retired, denies doing anything wrong. She says she never received a dime from Lyons, past or present.

“I don’t have anything to do with Henry Lyons or his money,’’ she told a reporter before abruptly ending a recent interview.

Lyons, 76, who was fired from New Salem last year, did not answer questions about his relationship with McCanns or about bank records that show Lilly money moving in and out of his accounts.

Warren Hope Dawson, his attorney, declined to discuss specifics. He said, however, that there was no contract or church bylaw that prohibited Lyons from opening personal accounts and depositing New Salem money in them.

“Rev. Lyons denies any wrongdoing in connection to the New Salem church,” Dawson said. “Any wrongdoing that was done in the past, he was punished for it, and he accepted his punishment like a man.”

Last summer, the FBI seized a computer and multiple boxes of financial records used by Lyons and his wife from New Salem offices. As is its practice, the FBI will not comment on investigations.

But McCanns acknowledged agents have contacted her. And more recently, church officials say agents have been questioning them. Several said they were asked if they would be willing to testify against Lyons.

Wynie Anderson was the secretary at New Salem for 19 years. When an invoice or donation arrived, Anderson was usually the first to know.

She made bank deposits and notarized property transactions. She scoured the Internet looking for ways to raise money for the church. One day in late 2009, she told the Times, Lyons called her into his office. He told her he had stumbled onto a new grant prospect and needed her help.

The Lilly Endowment of Indianapolis — created by members of the family that built Eli Lilly and Co., the giant pharmaceutical firm — had money the church could get, Anderson said Lyons told her. But there was a twist. Lyons would have to send money to get money.

“He says to me, ‘This funding comes from this endowment where they pay pastors if the pastors give X amount of dollars,’?’’ Anderson said. “I say ‘really?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’?’’

Lilly says nothing like that has ever existed. But the organization does have an “incentive for personal giving” program open only to Lilly employees, who can apply for a 2-to-1 match of every dollar they donate to an outside charity. Employees must certify the donation is coming from them and not from outside individuals or organizations.

For months, Lyons mailed at least $1,500 to a contact at Lilly, Anderson told the Times. When a Lilly check arrived at the church, he told her where to deposit it. For her help with each transaction, she was typically given $300.

Occasionally, Anderson would talk by phone to a woman at Lilly who wanted to make sure the church had the forms it needed.

Her name, Anderson said, was Rochelle McCanns.

From 1975 until her retirement in 2015, McCanns held a number of administrative positions at the Lilly Endowment. The last was overseeing its matching gift program for employees.

The Lilly Endowment is one of the largest private foundations in the world, with more than $10 billion in assets. In a typical year, it awards hundreds of millions in grants, much of it to education and religion programs.

The matching gift program is designed to encourage employee giving.

Between 2009 and 2014, Lilly paid New Salem’s nonprofit arm — New Salem Ministries — $132,200 in matching grants. In each instance, McCanns signed a form certifying she had made the initial contribution personally, according to a statement by Clay Robbins, the Lilly Endowment chief executive.

At the time, the church charity provided food for the poor, child day care, an after-school program and other social services. It was supposed to receive $20,000 in 2009; $23,400 in 2010; $18,800 in 2011; $21,000 in 2012; $26,000 in 2013 and $24,000 in 2014.

Bank statements and church records show at least $94,000 was diverted into other accounts controlled by Lyons.

Most of it went to Regions Bank in Tampa. Lyons directed an 82-year-old deacon to start the new account, called the New Salem Missionary Baptist Church Benevolence Fund, on Feb. 11, 2013. Bank statements show the deacon opened it with $3,000 from church members’ tithes and donations.

That was the same day the U.S. Attorney’s Office informed Lyons of its plans to audit his finances to ensure he was paying his legally required restitution for crimes committed while president of the National Baptist Convention. It was also the same day prosecutors filed a subpoena on BB&T bank, demanding records about Lyons’ checking and savings accounts there.

Until that time, New Salem kept its benevolence funds at SunTrust and PNC banks. They were small pots of money set aside to provide loans to church members in crisis.

The fund would range from as little as $100 to as much as a few thousand. Dispersals were capped at $300, with each case required to be approved by Lyons and one other church leader.

Between February 2013 and December 2014, $69,800 in Lilly matching money moved in and out of the account at Regions. The cycle of deposits and withdrawals was repeated 15 times, with checks from Lilly or McCanns coming in and money going out to Lyons or accounts he controlled.

Breach Ministries, a charity created by Lyons, received $42,100. Almost $15,000 went to Lyons directly while $10,700 was paid to National Trusted Partners, an organization founded by Lyons.

Church officials say the benevolence fund at Regions was created without their knowledge. They say they didn’t learn of the Lilly checks until told by the Times.

The deacon has since left the church.

G.W. Stewart, treasurer for National Trusted Partners at the time of the transactions, told the Times he was unaware the organization had received thousands intended for New Salem Ministries. Lyons alone controlled the checkbook, he said, as well as related financial transactions. He insisted he was a treasurer in name only and never saw financial statements or held any real oversight power.

“One time Lyons brought the checkbook with him and I saw something that I couldn’t understand,’’ he told the Times. He said he asked Lyons to identify the recipient of a particular check.

“And he said, ‘Well, I have some personal business mixed up with that. So don’t worry about that,’?’’ Stewart said. “I left it alone. After that I didn’t ask any more questions. I figured if I don’t know nothing about it then I’m not involved.”

Most of the Lilly donations do not appear to have been disclosed to the Internal Revenue Service by New Salem Ministries, as required by law.

….

You can read the entire story here.

Black Collar Crime: Methodist Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell Accused of Fraud

kirbyjon caldwell

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.

Kirbyjon Caldwell, megachurch pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas, was indicted today and charged with “conspiracy to commit wire fraud, six counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiring to commit money laundering and three counts of money laundering.”

KTBS-3 reports:

A Shreveport financial planner and the pastor of a Houston, Texas, megachurch are accused of bilking investors of more than $1 million.

Thursday, a federal grand jury returned a 13-count indictment against Gregory Alan Smith, 55, of Shreveport and Kirbyjon H. Caldwell, 64, of Houston.

Smith is the owner of Greg Smith Financial Group. Caldwell is pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church, a 16,000-member megachurch in Houston. He was an unofficial advisor to former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Smith and Caldwell are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, six counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiring to commit money laundering and three counts of money laundering.

According to the indictment, Smith used his influence and status as the operator and manager of Smith Financial Group in Shreveport, and Caldwell used his influence and status as pastor at his church to lure investors to pay more than $1 million to invest in Historical Chinese bonds.

These bonds were issued by the former Republic of China prior to losing power to the communist government in 1949. They are not recognized by China’s current government and have no investment value.

Smith and Caldwell promised high rates of return, sometimes three to 15 times the value of the investments, according to the indictme.

Federal authorities allege Smith and Caldwell used investors’ money to pay personal loans, credit card balances, mortgages, vehicle purchases and other personal expenses.

….

The Houston Chronicle adds:

A prominent Houston pastor and spiritual adviser to President George W. Bush has been indicted on federal charges he sold more than more than $1 million in worthless Chinese bonds to elderly and vulnerable investors, according to federal authorities.

Kirbyjon H. Caldwell, 64, and Shreveport financial planner Gregory Alan Smith, 55, were indicted Thursday on 13 charges accusing them of wire fraud and money laundering, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Louisiana said in a Thursday statement.

Caldwell is accused of using his position as the senior pastor of the Windsor Village United Methodist Church to lure more than $1 million in investments into historic Chinese bonds that are not recognized by the Chinese government. He and Smith told investors they could see returns as high as 15 times their initial investment, prosecutors said.

The indictment accuses the men of cheating 29 investors between April 2013 and August 2014 of nearly $3.5 million for what were described as “mere collectible memoribilia.”

….

 

Caldwell, a Houston native, developed a friendship with George W. Bush when he was governor of Texas, and he offered the benediction to Bush’s 2001 inauguration as president. He also performed the wedding for Bush’s daughter, Jenna, in Crawford in Central Texas.

Caldwell co-authored a 1999 book, The Gospel of Good Success. His work is credited with helping create the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives under Bush.

….

Caldwell’s church bio page states:

Kirbyjon H. Caldwell is Senior Pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church. Under the leadership of Caldwell since 1982, Windsor Village Church membership has increased from 25 members to more than 16,000, making it one of the largest Protestant Churches in the country. As a result of Caldwell’s effective social entrepreneurship, both Caldwell and the Windsor Village Church Family have been featured extensively in national and international print and broadcast media, including U.S. News & World Report, the British Broadcasting Corporation, The Wall Street Journal and the CBS Evening News. Caldwell was included in Newsweek’s “Century Club”, the publication’s list of 100 people to watch as America moved into the 21st century.

In partnership with the Windsor Village Church Family, Caldwell has spearheaded several independently operated nonprofits and community development projects that have impacted the social and economic landscape of central Southwest Houston, including The Power Center and Pointe 2.3.4. The Power Center is a 21st century service delivery model of private and public partnership that serves 11,000-plus families a month. Pointe 2.3.4. is a 234-acre, mini-master-planned community that encompasses a commercial park which includes a: CVS Pharmacy, Walgreen’s, Advance Auto Parts, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, ABC Dental and TSO; Corinthian Pointe, a residential subdivision consisting of 462 homes; a YMCA; an HISD elementary school; a senior high charter school; Texas Children’s Pediatrics Center; Corinthian Village independent living facility for seniors; and the 183,000-square-foot Kingdom Builders’ Community Center. Collectively, the nonprofit projects have produced 700 permanent jobs and make a $65.5 million cash flow impact on the community annually. Additionally, Caldwell is the founder of three schools that provide education to students from elementary to senior high school.

Caldwell currently serves on several corporate and nonprofit boards, including NRG Energy where he serves as Chair of the Governance Nominating Committee, Inc., Bridgeway Capital Management, The Greater Houston Partnership Executive Committee, Southern Methodist University and M.D. Anderson-The University Cancer Foundation. He is also a limited partner with the Houston Texans NFL Franchise.

A native Houstonian, Caldwell was educated in the Houston public schools; received a B.A. Degree in Economics from Carleton College; an M.B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Business; a Master’s Degree in Theology from Southern Methodist University-Perkins School of Theology; and two honorary Doctor of Law degrees, one from Huston-Tillotson College and another from Carleton College.

Caldwell is a husband, father and author of the best seller The Gospel of Good Success and co-author of Entrepreneurial Faith.

Caldwell denies the bonds were illegitimate.

Black Collar Crime: Pastor Cameron McDonald Faces Civil Suit Over Misused Donation

pastor cameron mcdonald

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.

Cameron McDonald, pastor of Southern Acres Christian Church in Lexington, Kentucky, stands accused of “embezzling $100,000 of a church contribution.”

The Lexington Herald Leader reports:

A Lexington pastor under scrutiny since last fall is now accused of embezzling $100,000 of a church contribution, according to a civil lawsuit filed by two church members.

The new lawsuit from James Keogh and Chad Martin filed Friday in Fayette County Circuit Court provides more specific details about the source of the heated dispute at Southern Acres Christian Church than did an earlier lawsuit that was dismissed while the church members tried to work with pastor Cameron McDonald.

Keogh and Martin accuse McDonald of embezzlement, unlawful conversion of funds and unjust enrichment in the civil complaint. An attorney representing McDonald earlier said no money had been misused and denied all allegations. Attempts to reach attorney Austin Wilkerson Tuesday were not immediately successful.

Keogh gave $170,000 to the church on Dec. 19, 2016, at McDonald’s urging and $100,000 was diverted to McDonald or his wife to help pay the mortgage on the couple’s $530,000 Jessamine County house purchased about five months earlier, according to the lawsuit. Keogh had specified the money was supposed to be used to pay off the church’s mortgage

“McDonald intentionally treated Keogh’s $100,000 as his own and diverted it to his own personal use, to the detriment of Keogh and the others, by failing to make the specified payment of mortgage debt he promised to make,” the complaint states.

According to the complaint, Keogh made a written demand for the return of the money, but McDonald did not comply or respond. McDonald was given a Feb. 15 deadline.

The court complaint states that Keogh is entitled to the return of the $100,000 because McDonald did not use it in the manner promised and agreed. The church mortgage of $144,000 was not paid off and the church was subsequently in debt due to the misuse of the money, according to court files and a police case report filed in November.

In addition to diverting the money, McDonald insisted his pastor compensation should be increased in the months that followed the purchase of the Jessamine County home and its 96 acres of land , the new lawsuit claims.

Last year, McDonald also insisted the church add his wife to the payroll, giving them a combined income of more than $100,000, the lawsuit states.

McDonald arranged last year for the removal of several of the church’s governing board of elders and appointed his wife and friend, pastor Tim Jones, to the new 3-person board that included himself, court documents show.

The complaint also alleges that McDonald fired the church’s officer manager to prevent her from being able to provide information about the church’s finances to law enforcement. No staff members other than McDonald and his wife are listed any longer on the church’s website.

Prior to the November lawsuit being dismissed, church attorney Wilkerson denied all allegations made against McDonald and the church and said all actions were taken in accordance with the Bible.

As tensions escalated, McDonald repeatedly barred some members from church. An off-duty Lexington police officer blocked some from entering the church during worship services.

Earlier this month, the church’s members voted 173-0 for a resolution removing McDonald as pastor and electing a new board of elders. In fact, the church members had to vote at a nearby park because they weren’t given access to church property; the church was locked during service that Sunday. Wilkerson, at the time, called the resolution illegal and contentious.

….

Black Collar Crime: Baptist Church Treasurer Dorothy Nicolo Accused of Stealing $119,000

dorothy nicolo

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.

Dorothy Nicolo, treasurer for Aenon Baptist Church in Tallahassee, Florida, stands accused of using church funds to pay for personal goods and vacations.

Karl Etters, a reporter for the Tallahassee Democrat, writes:

For the past five years, investigators say, Dorothy Nicolo used the bank accounts of Aenon Baptist Church like her own pocketbook.

The 70-year-old paid for vacations, shopping sprees and a lifestyle beyond her means with the $119,000 she is accused of stealing from the west Leon County church.

Nicolo, who served as the church’s volunteer treasurer for 24 years, was arrested Wednesday by the Leon County Sheriff’s Office on 40 felony counts that include grand theft of more than $100,000, scheme to defraud, fraudulent use of a credit card and forgery.

Church leadership caught onto the thievery when it went to repave its parking lot.

Heavy machinery to be used was delivered to the church on a Sunday in September. Nicolo asked why it was there and told several people the church did not have enough money to complete the $30,000 project, according to court records.

The church only had about $20,000, a fraction of what should have been available.

Nicolo had been altering the monthly expenditure records to conceal the purchases and money she was funneling from two bank accounts, according to court records. Church officials never noticed the discrepancies because Nicolo had financial statements mailed to her house.

Nicolo, who worked at Florida State University as a secretary for 30 years, was confronted about the thefts and admitted to Pastor Jason Whitelock to using the church’s credit cards.

“I know I was wrong, I’ve admitted it and I’m very sorry about it,” she told investigators. “It just seemed easy and I lost my sense of judgment.”

She spoke in front of the church’s congregation in October, asking for forgiveness and promising to repay the money.

The letter she read aloud is included in court records. Nicolo said she’d worked out a repayment budget and offered $5,000 in inheritance money as a down payment. She told Whitelock she’d tried to pay back the money incrementally by putting cash in the collection plate, but he told investigators there was no indication that had occurred.

Once the scheme was uncovered, Nicolo began to return to the church items she purchased with the stolen money.

Court records indicate Nicolo returned: 427 rolls of yarn, two shotguns, two Canon cameras, 86 Sea World picture frames, 158 stuffed animals, theme park cups, 76 assorted coffee mugs, acrylic bears and ceramic animal figurines, 234 bags and purses, 52 shirts and jackets, cell phone chargers and accessories, luggage and an Apple Watch.

She told investigators she’d used the church’s money to fund trips to Sea World, Disney World, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and made purchases in Cozumel while on a cruise.

….

%d bloggers like this: