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Black Collar Crime: United Church of Christ Pastor Misi Tagaloa Accused of Fraud

misi tagaloa

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.

Misi Tagaloa, pastor of Second Samoan United Church of Christ in Long Beach, California, stands accused of stealing over $100,000 from Phillip Campbell (who has since died), a disabled, schizophrenic homeless man. Charged last August, Tagaloa remains the pastor of Second Samoan.

Jeremiah Dobruck, a reporter for the Long Beach Press, writes:

The man in the photo looked like her father, but Sounmi Campbell needed to be sure.

Phillip Campbell had disappeared almost 20 years earlier in a fog of mental illness that abruptly drove him from his sister’s home in Georgia. A trail of letters, the final ones postmarked from Long Beach more than a decade ago, was his family’s last clue to his whereabouts.

The letters eventually stopped, but the search didn’t. From the East Coast, Sounmi’s sister-in-law was scouring online records. In 2017, as she Googled the name Phillip Campbell, she saw it associated for the first time with Misi Tagaloa, a prominent pastor in Long Beach who has run for City Council three times.

What were the chances this could be their Phillip Campbell?

For months, Sounmi said, her sister-in-law tried to reach the pastor, but he would take weeks to respond. When he eventually provided a photo of a man he knew as Phillip Campbell, Sounmi was stunned.

“When the picture came up, I was like, oh my god,” she said. In the man’s face—with an unmistakable hawk nose the entire family seems to share—she saw herself.

….

For years, Sounmi had feared her father was dead or living on the street, so she at first was grateful Campbell was under the care of Tagaloa, who leads the Second Samoan Congregational Church on the outskirts of Downtown Long Beach.

Campbell was living in a home next to the church’s sanctuary. Inside, the conditions weren’t ideal, according to his family, who said he was sleeping on a couch in the house with several other homeless men. But at least he was safe.

That gratitude has since soured as investigators from the Long Beach Police Department and state Department of Justice unwound Tagaloa’s financial relationship with Campbell.

“This is clearly abuse of my father,” Sounmi said after seeing the breadth of the accusations laid out in a 14-page affidavit filed by state prosecutors earlier this year and obtained by the Long Beach Post last week.

Tagaloa’s crime, the document alleges, spanned years, with the pastor gaining power of attorney over Campbell, a schizophrenic man in his 60s who had lost the ability to properly care for himself.

While managing Campbell’s finances, prosecutors say, Tagaloa embezzled more than $100,000.

The California Attorney General’s Office charged Tagaloa in August with felony counts of grand theft and theft from an elder dependent, but the case has remained largely out of public view with Tagaloa free on $70,000 bail as he progresses slowly toward trial.

….

Madena estimates her brother had been living out of Tagaloa’s church since some time before 2013. By 2016, Tagaloa was applying to manage Campbell’s VA benefits, according to investigators’ account in their 14-page affidavit. As part of the application, the pastor signed an agreement pledging to use the money only for Campbell’s benefit.

As soon as 2017, the VA flagged a questionable expense. In August that year, officials asked Tagaloa to justify a $4,390 payment to ClickSound & Stage, the name of a Norwalk-based stage and sound equipment rental company.

When investigators circled back for a closer look, they found a host of suspicious payments starting as early as 2016, according to the affidavit. They allege Campbell’s account was charged $356 at Men’s Suit Outlet, $913.11 to TNT Electric Signs, $318 to A & A Towing, $1,000 for rent at “Second Samoan,” followed three days later by another $1,200 to the church.

There was a flurry of spending from Campbell’s account on one day in February 2017, the affidavit says: a total of $2,477.75 at what appear to be clothing and apparel stores like Judy Blue Jeans USA, LAJEWELRYPLAZADOTCOM and Capella Apparel Co.

More charges would follow, according to the affidavit: hundreds of dollars to restaurants and donations to local community groups along with thousands directly to Tagaloa’s church.

….

All the details still aren’t publicly known. In the affidavit, investigators describe over 50 transactions they thought were suspicious, but they also seized six years of bank records that could contain more details.

The charges against Tagaloa accused him of stealing more than $100,000, but the California Attorney General’s Office declined to give a more exact figure or describe further what Tagaloa allegedly spent the money on other than to say they were “unauthorized expenses.”

Prosecutors haven’t found evidence of Tagaloa gaining guardianship over anyone other than Campbell, a spokesperson for the State Attorney General’s Office said in an email.

Sounmi said her father was clearly unable to adequately care for himself, but if his children had been in control, perhaps they could have gotten him better treatment before he ended up on a couch or in a convalescent hospital.

“There’s no reason that my father had to live like that,” she said. “We needed that pastor’s help and he neglected to contact us.”

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Black Collar Crime: Fraud Charges Against Evangelical Pastor Lent Carr, II. Dismissed

lent carr

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 October 2017, The Fayette Observer reported:

The minister of a Hoke County church is accused of writing a bad check and forging the signature on it, Raeford police said.

Lent Christopher Carr, 43, pastor of Emmaus Greater Pentecostal Assembly at 3300 Laurinburg Road, was charged Friday with felony worthless check and uttering a forged instrument with false endorsement.

In January, Carr moved into the location, established his church and took over the property, a police release said.

Carr then learned that a large sum was owed in back taxes on the property. The release did not say how much was owed to the Hoke County Tax Office. Carr began making payments to the tax office in May.

On Oct. 13, Carr wrote a check for $9,050 to the tax office. The check belonged to the previous property owner. Carr found it inside the building, which is also his residence, and signed the prior owner’s name on it, the release said.

Lent Carr, II. is the pastor of Emmaus Greater Pentecostal Assembly in Raeford, North Carolina.

In November 2017, Carr sent me the following email:

Thank you for the return email received last week regarding the piecemeal report as reported by the Raeford Police Department. As promised, below is my official statement and facts surrounding the lopsided report that my Attorneys are sure will be dismissed in the coming weeks. There’s only a few things I think is prudent as far as highlighting at this juncture per my Attorneys’ direction. they are as follows:

1. The check in question that was presented to the Hoke County Tax Office was presented at the direct instruction of my client Jannetta Jordan. She had previously given me supervisory authority over sparse tangible property of hers that was not removed or stored by her previous Power of Attorney. That included the checking account in which she stated was supported by funds to cover said taxes in which the check was presented and endorsed for. “I had no reason to believe that the funds were not supported as Ms. Jordan had affirmed to me on numerous occasions that she had rainy day monies in remote Banks here and elsewhere. Furthermore, Jordan had been for a number of years a licence Psychologist with Offices in Hoke County, Cumberland County and Wake County respectfully, along with other business ventures as was told me.”

2. Moreover, upon her own freewill and desire, Jordan employed the Services of Emmaus Corp. Legal/Domestic Briefing, Investigative, and collection, and research Service Firm of North Carolina, where Carr, is the Supervising Partner for said Service Firm. Not to mention Jordan’s employment contract for said firm to act under law, and on her behalf as her sole Property Manager for multiple properties, including the Gatlin Farm Road, and the 4160 Laurinburg Road Properties whereby the vast amount of the check funds were to cover at a tune of $6,000.00, plus, in contrast to that of what was owed following Mr. Carr’s diligent payments made to the tax office for taxes deliquent as a matter of Jordan’s failure to pay taxes for the fiscal years of 2014, 2015 and 2016. To date, Carr has personally paid out of his own funds to the Tax Office approx. over $10,000, with merely owing a small amount of $3,900.00. This is why any false allegation of his presenting a check for forgery, uttery and gainful purposes could never be supported by the Greater weight of the evidence, nor would it make sense when Carr has paid off Jordan’s tax debts to the smaller amount of $3,000.00 dollars owed.

3. Further, without having the benefit and knowledge that Carr possessed and was duly granted legal Power of Attorney to “…make deposits and withdrawals, negotiate or ENDORSE ANY CHECKS OR OTHER INSTRUMENTS with respect to any such accounts…” (See, Pg. 1, Para. 7, Durable Power of Attorney) and belonging to Jordan, a legal Durable Power of Attorney backed by the North Carolina General Statutes, the Raeford Police Department jumped the gun with its prepared, and fatally flawed charging instrument, even after being voluntarily presented the same at its precinct following the arrest of Carr. The Power of Attorney Contract was entered into on February 3, 2017, whereby Jordan did legally sign, and a Notary Public of the State of North Carolina contracting with the Wake County Jail, where Jordan is awaiting trial for Medicaid Fraud, Obtaining Property under False Pretense, Obstructing Justice amongst other charges, swore under oath before William Thomas, Notary, on the same Day of February 3, 2017, seal stamped. Now, for the Raeford Police to have been presented said power of attorney information, coupled by the Property Management Contract, at the very least, Carr should have never been charged with forgery of a check nor any other charge for that matter. Others similarly situated, who endorse, present for payment checks on a grantor’s behalf, only to later be apprised that such was not supported by funds are almost never treated arbitrarily as has been towards this Pastor of our Community, Lent Carr. If anything, the Detective, Detective P. Noce, leading this egregious reprisal campaign (as believed to be the case by Carr) on the legal side of this matter, that is however, outside of what Carr believes to be political pressure and influence, should at the very least halted the proceedings and done a more comprehensive investigation that would have shown that the Victim in this quagmire was not Jordan, but rather Carr who have over the past year taken on multiple battles for Jordan, including back taxes owed in which she never informed him about from the outset. Not only that, under circumstances as that of the check presented to the tax office in good faith on the part of Carr, even if the Detective felt pressured by other powers that be to arbitrarily charge me with a non-sequitur crime (since there is an actual power of attorney) then the charge should have been nothing more than a simple worthless check, since no set of facts can even remotely be proved of forgery, uttery, publishing, and as the charging instrument has so misled the general public to believe that Carr had somehow generated a false currency instrument as those nefarious who counterfeit.

4. As relating to the tax matter, there is a Judgment Order that has been duly and legally entered by the Clerk of Superior Court entitled “CERTIFICATE OF PAYMENT/SATISFACTION OF JUDGMENT CREDITOR (PAYMENT IN FULL), filed by the Tax Office, and ratified, stamped and Sworn, specifically stating that there are no further taxes owed on the property at 3300 Laurinburg Road. Furthermore, Carr’s Deed of Transfer has likewise been filed, stamped by the Tax Office stating “This certifies that pin: 394130001005; is free of any deliquent ad valorem Tax liens charged to the Hoke County Tax Collector…” Said Deed was filed with the Register of Deeds Office on October 4, 2017. In accordance to GS105-357 Payment of Taxes, any and all prior taxes owed are now moot. The Law specifically states in pertinent part: “If the tax collector accepts a check or electronic payment in payment of taxes on realo property and issues the receipt, and the check is later returned unpaid or the electronic payment invoice is not honored by issuer, the taxing unit’s lien for taxes on the real property SHALL BE INFERIOR TO THE RIGHTS OF PURCHASERS FOR VALUE AND OF PERSONS ACQUIRING LIENS OF RECORD for value if the purchasers or lienholders acquire their rights in good faith…” GS 105-357 This among other political matters is what Is believe, in part was the motive of the gun hoe charging and arresting.

Finally, Pg. 4, Para. 6, of the Lawfully entered Durable Power of Attorney specifically states: “My Agent shall not be liable for any loss that results from a judgment error that was made in good faith…” Because Jordan instructed Carr to specifically pay back taxes on her two properties (being the one who gain the most) and the one property acquired whereby He was at the end of completing of just $3000.00, and because he had no knowledge that the check was not supported by funds, something the Tax Office should have done their dudiligence in verifying, and because at all times He acted in good faith representing the best interest of his client Jordan (Pro-Bono), her actions should have never been weighed upon Carr wrongfully seeing as Carr merely acted in accordance to NCGS Power of Attorney dictates as is granted others.

According to publicly available news stories, Carr has had previous brushes with the law. You can read one account here.

Yesterday (November 4, 2020), Carr emailed me and said that the charges against him had been dismissed. Carr sent me the following email:

Please be advised that upon my Civil Attorneys instructions, I am hereby providing you with copies of the final Dismissal had in relation to a story you authored regarding a false Check allegation against me, Lent Carr. Also attached hereto for your inspection is a News Article in which was released detailing the the egregious false charges levied against me in which you you wrote about third party wise.

Nevertheless, unlike a couple of Reporters who have already been sued for liable defamation of my character amongst other causes for civil action, I did want to exclude you from this suit as I believe you wrote your third party article for sensationalist reasons in which upon Information and belief you have against Clergy.

At any rate, I am hereby requesting that you 1) update and correct your story to reflect the truth of the matter, and secondly, that your entire falsely written story be immediately removed from your site and Google in the first instance, and any other online places that may be known or unknown to me at this time.

Failure to do so will result in enjoining you with several other News Journalist who failed to research the subject matter prior to their attempt to defame who and what I stand for.

Upon Your receipt of this email, I/We would expect you to have this matter resolved as Demanded above, or we will consider your refusal as an adversarial decision, and the appropriate actions shall ensue in accordance to North Carolina General Statutes.

While I could find no publicly available news stories that corroborate Carr’s claims, he did provide me me with PDF files that, indeed, say that the charges against him have been dismissed.

On June 24, 2020, Catharin Shepard, a staff writer for The News-Journal wrote (no public link available):

The two-and-a-half years the Rev. Dr. Lent Christopher Carr spent going to court and working with attorneys took a toll on his health and ministerial work, Carr said.

“They destroyed my life, they destroyed my reputation. No one’s come out and apologized, nothing,” he said.

Officers with the Raeford Police Department arrested Carr in October 2017 on the now-dropped charges of writing a worthless check and uttering of a forged instrument.

…..

The dismissal document filed June 1 in Hoke County Superior Court confirmed that prosecutors chose to drop the charges against Carr because he was acting as Jordan’s designated power of attorney at the time.

“Defendant was POA (power of attorney) for drawer of check, the dismissal states. Prosecutor Sean Kennally signed the dismissal May 29.

….

Now that the charges have been dropped, Carr describes the experience as “nightmarish” and said he is considering pursuing legal action.

….

“I’m just really lost for words because I really feel that that was a malicious prosecution. All of my attorneys felt the same way,” he said.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Abner Anibal Rolon Accused of Fraud

abner anibal rolon

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.

Abner Anibal Rolon, pastor of Calvary First Assembly in Haines City, Florida, stands accused of attempting to “bilk an 85-year-old woman with visual, hearing and mobility impairments for more than $35,000.”

News Chief reports:

Abner Anibal Rolon, 46, a Davenport resident and senior pastor at Calvary First Assembly in unincorporated Haines City, allegedly attempted to bilk an 85-year-old woman with visual, hearing and mobility impairments for more than $35,000, according to a Haines City Police Department press release.

He also was charged by HCPD with scheming to defraud in the amount of more than $20,000 and presenting himself as a contractor without a license. Rolon turned himself in on Friday. He was subsequently released on $10,500 bond, according to Polk County Jail records.

According to HCPD, the victim, who resides with a caretaker, was seeking flooring and roofing repairs in preparation to sell her home. Rolon allegedly handed the woman “A Servant’s Hand” business card in June in which he presented himself as a licensed contractor capable of multiple services.

HCPD stated while the caretaker was away, Rolon insisted more services were necessary. He eventually billed the woman six times between July and September for work totaling $36,440.

According to police, the Haines City Building Division and Code Compliance unit discovered a water heater, ceiling fans, windows, electrical work and light fixtures were incorrectly installed and must be reworked. Rolon allegedly also billed the woman for roof and porch repairs that were not done.

HCPD stated Rolon was not licensed for electrical and contracting work and failed to procure permits for the work.

“To take advantage of an elderly woman trying to sell her home and to this extent, is simply unconscionable,” HCPD Chief Jim Elensky said. “We should be able to rely on our local pastors to serve as community leaders — not lying, stealing and taking advantage of people.”

Rolon and his wife, also a church pastor, have already been scrubbed from the Calvary First Assembly website. Their Facebook page is currently unavailable.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Raymond Vliet Pleads No Contest to Attempted Embezzlement

pastor raymond vliet

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.

MLive reported at the time:

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 [2019] 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.

I responded:

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.

Bruce Gerencser

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-headshot

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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

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.

Bruce Gerencser