Tag Archive: Fraud

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Robert Keith Charged with $700,000 Theft

pastor r david keith

Robert (R. David) Keith, pastor of New Ebeneezer Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey was arrested and charged  with “stealing approximately $700,000 at his side job at a local repair company.” New Brunswick Today reports:

Authorities announced on March 28 that they had charged a member of the clergy with stealing approximately $700,000 at his side job at a local repair company.

Robert Keith, a 46-year-old West Orange resident, was charged with credit card theft, money laundering, forgery, theft by unlawful taking, and unlawful use of a credit card, according to the official statement.

It all stemmed from his employment at RupCoe, the South Plainfield company where he was apparently a bookkeeper despite not being a licensed certified public accountant.

“During the investigation it was determined that the defendant, while working as the bookkeeper for a South Plainfield plumbing, heating and air conditioning company, stole the money in various amounts between February 1, 2015 and February 7, 2017.”

But Keith is also apparently a pastor in Essex County, going by the name R. David Keith and serving as the public face of a Newark church.  Prosecutors allege he played up his status as a “religious leader” to “add legitimacy” to his bookkeeping services.

The official statement from the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office (MCPO) did not mention the company that Keith allegedly victimized, nor did it indicate which church he preached at.

But it wasn’t hard to figure out he was the preacher at Newark’s New Ebeneezer Baptist Church, where a banner with his face is hanging from the building, according to a NBC television report.

Some people told reporters that Keith had claimed to own a car dealership, and that they never knew about his bookkeeping job.

“The investigation began after company officials discovered the thefts and contacted police,” read the MCPO release.

“It has been determined during the course of the investigation that he sought to add legitimacy to his bookkeeping services by describing himself as a religious leader.”

Black Collar Crime: Pastor Colin Davids Accused of Running a Ponzi Scheme

pastor colin davids

Colin Davids, pastor of New Dimension Church in Cape Town, South Africa, was accused in 2015 of running a ponzi scheme that bilked investors out of millions of dollars. In October 2015, IOL reported:

A Cape Town pastor accused of running a multi-million rand ponzi scheme will not be getting access to R290 000 [conversion rate 1 U.S. dollar = 13 Rand] of his seized funds each month, the Western Cape High Court has ruled.

Colin Davids, the CEO of foreign currency trading company Platinum Forex, had requested R90 000 for family expenses and R200 000 for legal fees a month.

ut on Friday Judge Siraj Desai refused the application, saying Davids had yet to explain how R500 million disappeared from the company’s account two months ago, according to an Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) statement.

Desai said R90 000 per month was not considered reasonable for a family of six, reports Weekend Argus.

Davids could also not explain how he had calculated the R200 000 per month for legal costs, the judge found.

In July, the AFU seized assets worth R138 million from Platinum Forex.

Davids, who is a pastor at the New Direction Grace Church in Parow Industria, is being investigated for allegedly:

* Running a company that is not lawfully allowed to provide financial services

* Using investors’ funds for his own benefit, including the purchase of multi-million rand homes in Plattekloof and Hermanus, as well as two BMWs and a Jaguar F-Type V8 S convertible.

* Making false promises to the public, claiming that “investments” would yield interest returns of up to 84 percent.

* Using funds received from investors to pay other members.

Davids claimed his monthly expenses amount to R89 779, including R10 000 for entertainment, R15 000 for groceries and toiletries for a family of six, R2 000 for his daughters, tuition fees for his younger children, and installments for vehicles.

However, Judge Desai found that Davids had failed to make full disclosure of all property and to provide a sworn statement of assets and liabilities.

He referred to the AFU’s submission that less than R2 million remained in Platinum Forex’s Nedbank account when the curator took control of it, after more than R500 million had been deposited between August last year and June this year.

Desai added that the lack of disclosure made it difficult, “if not impossible”, for the court to find in Davids’ favour.

Last week, a South African court ordered Davids to pay back millions of dollars to investors. The Daily Voice reports:

A Cape Flats pastor accused of running a multi-million ponzi scheme has lost his first round in court after a judge ordered that R100 million in funds be handed back to his “investors”.

Colin Davids, the director of Platinum Forex Group, faces charges of fraud, contravention of the Financial Advisory and Intermediary Services Act (FAIS), for which he was not registered or licensed to perform.

The New Direction Church pastor, aged 49, is said to have run a scheme where investors were promised impossibly high returns, and were repaid with investments from newcomers.

According to an auditor’s report, a total sum of R329m went into Davids’ accounts from over 2 000 investors between November 2009 to July 2015.

Last July, the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) seized assets worth R138m from Platinum Forex.

On Thursday, the Cape Town High Court said that of the over R300m that was initially invested in his company, only about R100m remains, and ruled that a curator oversee the process of distributing frozen funds to investors.

In the ruling, the judge conveyed his sympathy to investors who had simply wanted a good return on their hard-earned money, he further thanked them for their patience and warned the general public to be wary of similar schemes.

The Judge also praised the AFU for their work on the case.

According to the Hawks, investigations against Davids by the Serious Commercial Crime Unit are currently ongoing and are at an advanced stage.

Davids remains out on a R100 000 bail after he was arrested in June 2016 on charges of contravening the FAIS Act and Banks Act.

….

The controversial pastor owns two multi-million rand homes, a luxurious mansion in Plattekloof and another house in Hermanus, and several luxury cars.

However, in September last year, Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Leonardo Goosen said the scheme run by Davids was “hopelessly insolvent” and that the accused had been trading recklessly.

 

Black Collar Crime: Sonya Joubert Accused of Fraud, Facing Charges in South Africa

sonya joubert

Sonya Joubert, wife of Francois, a former pastor who is currently employed with Samaritan’s Purse, has been accused of defrauding the company Trudon of $50 million over a period of nine years. The Stuff reports:

Here in New Zealand, Sonya Joubert’s friends and neighbours know her as the friendly wife of a former church pastor.

But South African police have this week revealed they want to extradite her to stand trial for allegedly stealing $50 million from a big telecommunications company, and going on the run.

The nation’s elite police crime-fighting unit, The Hawks, have launched a manhunt for Joubert, 43, who they say is “hiding” in New Zealand.

Joubert’s attorney in Auckland, Chris Patterson, said his client denied any wrongdoing and she would not return to South Africa. “There is no extradition treaty between New Zealand and South Africa,” said Patterson.

JJoubert’s attorney in Auckland, Chris Patterson, said his client denied any wrongdoing and she would not return to South Africa. “There is no extradition treaty between New Zealand and South Africa,” said Patterson.

“The truth is far less spectacular, much more simple,” wrote Joubert. “If you’re really interested in the truth, don’t look at old news stories, ask the right questions: a warrant of arrest for? Fleeing on what grounds?”

The Hawks allege Joubert and her accomplice, Adriaan van Vuuren, defrauded the company Trudon, a subsidiary of the state-owned Telkom, of R500 million ($50m) over a period of nine years.

Sonya and Francois Joubert, who was a pastor for 22 years, are believed to have moved to New Zealand in 2012. The South African authorities had no idea where she was; they said she had fled the country and was in hiding.

Van Vuuren, who was the IT manager for Trudon, allegedly created fraudulent invoices between 2007 and 2016 to pay a fictitious supplier for IT services required by Trudon on behalf of Telkom.

“Trudon transferred funds into Bites Bee Holding and The Corporate Choice’s account owned by Sonya Joubert. Telkom reported a loss of R500 million in total on all transactions made to these two companies,” said Hawks spokesperson Captain Ndivhuwo Mulamu.

Bites Bee Holdings and The Corporate Choice were registered solely in Joubert’s name in South Africa. She has since registered several new companies under her name in New Zealand, one of which is The Corporate Choice Limited.

“Joubert is wanted for a fraud case whereby she allegedly benefited from the monies which were deposited into both her companies,” said Mulamu.

Her office was working closely with Interpol to apprehend Joubert: “A warrant of arrest has been issued for her arrest and the extradition process is underway.”

Immigration New Zealand spokesperson Marc Piercy said the agency’s records showed Joubert was in New Zealand, “but for legal and privacy reasons we can provide no further detail.”

NZ Police refused to comment: “In general Police are not able to respond to requests which seek to establish whether specific individuals are, or have been, under Police investigation”.

Lawyer Chris Patterson said: “Sonya Joubert fervently denies any allegations of wrongdoing on her part. She has been implicated in this matter only because of her association with the company, Bite Bee Holdings CC, through being named as its director.

“At all relevant times she had absolutely no knowledge or reason to suspect that the individual who the South African authorities were investigating and has now deceased had committed any wrongdoing,” he said.

There was no link between The Corporate Choice mentioned by the Hawks and The Corporate Choice, which is registered in Joubert’s name in New Zealand. “Joubert chose the name when she established a company in New Zealand because she liked the name. Had she had any idea or knowledge about what was happening in South Africa she would never have used the same company name.”

Patterson said Joubert was willing to fully co-operate with the South African authorities, but added that she would not be “voluntarily travelling halfway around the world to South Africa” to clear her name in court.

The Hawks had not contacted him or Joubert, who is a New Zealand resident.

However, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice has confirmed that even though there’s no extradition treaty with South Africa, New Zealand’s extradition legislation does not require a bilateral treaty in order to send or receive extradition requests to and from other countries.

Joubert’s alleged accomplice, Adriaan van Vuuren, committed suicide last week in a hotel suite in South Africa, before he was due to hand himself over to the police.

Yesterday, The Stuff reported:

Interpol is allegedly on the verge of issuing an international arrest warrant for Sonya Joubert, 43, who is wanted in South Africa on $50 million fraud charges.

….

A source close to the investigation has confirmed that Joubert could potentiality be arrested within a week now that her whereabouts has been confirmed.

However, Hawks spokesperson Captain Ndivhuwo Mulamu has refused to confirm this saying: “Sonya’s matter is at the most sensitive stage right now.”

“We cannot comment further. Let’s rather give the investigation team a chance to do their work properly without any interferences that might jeopardise the investigation,” said Mulamu.

Patterson also didn’t want to comment any further on the matter.

“Sonya will not be giving any interviews with the New Zealand media until matters with the South African authorities have been resolved,” said Patterson.

Black Collar Crime: Hot Check Writing Preacher Running for Mayor of Marlin, Texas

demetrius beachum

Demetrius Beachum, pastor of Ministry of Hope in Marlin and Temple, Texas is running for mayor of Marlin. According to KWTX, Beachum has a history of writing bad checks and failing to pay traffic fines. KWTX reports:

KWTX investigated allegations against Demetrius Beachum, 39, and learned the mayoral candidate and pastor has been arrested at least six times for writing hot checks and not paying traffic tickets in McLennan and Hill counties, according to multiple law enforcement documents and sources.

According to jail records, Beachum was first arrested for theft by check in McLennan County in 1998, then again in 2007, and a third time in 2013.

The 2013 arrest stems from a 2011 theft over $20 and under $500 involving Central Rental and was dismissed on March 4, 2014.

Beachum was arrested for traffic related incidents in 2000 and 2001 in McLennan County, according to jail records.

Beachum was convicted of theft by check of property over $500 and under $1500 in 2011 in Hill County.

For that offense, Beachum was arrested by DPS and Killeen Police on February 19, 2011 and bonded-out the next day, according to Hill County officials.

According to court records, the incident occurred in 2010, and after being convicted on June 8, 2011, Beachum was ordered to pay $680 in restitution to Eagle Disposal Company and a $100 fine to the court.

Originally from Mexia, Beachum currently runs the Ministry of Hope church in Marlin and Temple.

According to the church’s Facebook page Ministry of Hope is:

A church of two locations, Marlin and Temple TX under the leadership of Supt Demetrius Beachum & First Lady Elect Vickie Beachum.

According to the same Facebook page, the story of Ministry of Hope goes like this:

Ministry of H.O.P.E. started in 2007 in Marlin, TX with only a few members. It is continually growing and 2008 was the year the Temple side opened. Our church will be celebrating ten years of blessed ministry. We only hope to go higher in Christ while adding souls to the kingdom! Our acronym H.O.P.E. stands for healing, overcoming, perfecting, and empowering by faith–We will minister! When you come to the H.O.P.E., we want your experience with God to be a life changing one with positive people in a heart felt environment. Welcome!!

The church’s website is not working at the time of this post.

Black Collar Crime: Baptist Pastor Convicted of Forgery Ordered to Pay $100K Restitution

pastor willie tiller

Willie Tiller, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Ardmore, Oklahoma is serving a ten-year prison sentence for forging checks totaling $108,800. Today, Tiller was ordered pay restitution to the daycare associated with the church he once pastored. The Daily Ardmoreite reports:

A former Ardmore preacher convicted in November of 10-counts of second-degree forgery was back in Carter County District Court Wednesday. This time Willie Tiller appeared before District judge Dennis Morris concerning restitution of the $108,800 he took from a daycare center associated with the local church he pastored.

District Attorney Craig Ladd presented evidence concerning the total amount of the 10 checks Tiller was convicted of forging from the First Touch Learning Center. Out of that amount, the daycare has recovered $5,000 from an insurance claim, which could not be considered part of the amount owed the victim (daycare center). The judge was told Tiller and his attorney, Lori Combs, had reached an agreement with the district attorney’s office to repay $98,800.

Morris accepted the agreement, telling Tiller he will have 30 days upon his release from prison to negotiate an acceptable repayment plan.

The former pastor of the First Baptist Church, located at 16 E St. NE, is serving a 10 year prison term. It was the sentence the jurors, who returned the 10 guilty verdicts against him, recommended. Morris, who
presided over the trial, formally sentenced Tiller in December. At the time the minster apologized to the court for his actions that led to his conviction. Morris told Tiller during sentencing he would be returned to his courtroom at a later date on the issue of restitution.

Link to original news story about Tiller’s crimes

Link to story about Tiller’s conviction

 

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Lonny Remmers Sentenced to One Year in Federal Prison

pastor lonny remmers

On October 7, 2014, Lonny Remmers, pastor of Heart of Worship Community Church in Corona, California was sentenced to two years in state prison for “assaulting the 13-year-old son of a church member.” The Press Enterprise reported:

Corona pastor Lonny Remmers, head of the Heart of Worship Community Church, faced an audience of one Friday as he fought to stay out of prison for assaulting the 13-year-old son of a church member.

Remmers, 56, told Superior Court Judge Richard T. Fields how he had mended marriages in his approximately 20-member church and broken children free from years of abuse.

In explaining why he grabbed a pair of pliers and pinched the boy’s nipple during a Bible study – a punishment for the boy raping his sister – Remmers conceded that “I wish I had thought different in the moment to pick a different route.”

Fields was only partly impressed, however, and sentenced Remmers to two years in state prison, the maximum allowed under a plea deal Remmers had agreed to. Fields rejected a request from defense attorney Peter Scalisi to allow Remmers to turn himself in at a later date, and the gray-haired pastor was bound in chains on the spot.

“I recognize the gentleman has done great things,” Fields told Remmers’ supporters and detractors in the courtroom.

But Fields noted other aspects of the punishment that occurred in March 2012 after the boy’s mother brought him to Remmers to be disciplined. Co-defendants Darryll D. Jeter Jr. and Nicholas Craig, who previously had pleaded guilty to inflicting corporal injury on a minor, had taken the boy known in court records as John Doe to the desert near Barstow, forced him to dig a mock grave, threw dirt on him and told the boy that his answers to questions would determine whether he lived or died. The boy was then taken to a group home, where he was stripped, zip tied to a chair and Maced, according to court records. The boy was then taken to the Bible study.

“The ultimate consequence of that was unimaginable to me,” Fields said. “That is not an acceptable form of punishment to me, plain and simple. That’s more than a minor misjudgment that I simply cannot ignore.”

Scalisi had urged Fields to grant probation. He said Remmers was remorseful and has helped many people in his ministry.

Friday’s hearing in Riverside provided a stunning conclusion to a case that Fields described as “very unique in many, many ways.”

For one, people who had avoided speaking out during the case that began in March 2012 decided to speak publicly Friday, and they didn’t leave anything out as they tried to persuade Fields to give Remmers probation instead of prison.

The victim in the case and his mother – she moved in with Remmers after his arrest on charges that originally included kidnapping – spoke on the pastor’s behalf Friday.

The boy, now 16, said Remmers “is the best father I have ever known. He means the world to me. He doesn’t deserve any of this. He’s done more to help me in my life than anyone else I’ve ever known. I love this man.”

The boy’s mother, who is not being identified because it could identify the boy, spoke next. She said Remmers pleaded guilty so the boy wouldn’t have to testify about molesting his younger sister. But then she told the court what her son did to her daughter.

She said the incident should have been taken care of in “the family” and not involved police. Remmers taught her son that when it comes to rape, “No means no.”

She claimed that the plea deal was made because of a lack of evidence. Fields interrupted her, reminding her that Remmers voluntarily pleaded guilty.

Yesterday, Remmers appeared in U.S. District Court and was sentenced to one year in prison for wire fraud. The Press Enterprise reports:

Corona Pastor Lonny Remmers was sentenced to a year and a day in federal custody Tuesday, April 4, in connection with an Ohio wire-fraud case.

In Toledo, U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey L. Helmick also sentenced Remmers, 59, to three years’ supervised probation and ordered him to pay $95,000 restitution. Remmers was sentenced on a felony charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud; two felony counts of wire fraud were dismissed. Two other counts of wire fraud were dismissed when Remmers pleaded guilty in August.

Twenty-four Remmers supporters submitted letters to the court, vouching for his character.

Remmers, Robert Milam and Mark O. Wittenmyer were accused of soliciting $2 million from an Ohio developer as seed money for an investment fund but instead using the money for their own purposes. Milam was sentenced to 14 months in prison in January. Wittenmyer is scheduled to be sentenced April 18.

Remmers is head of the Heart of Worship Community Church, which has about two dozen members, many of them recovering drug addicts or others who sought refuge with Remmers from their troubled lives.

Astoundingly, Remmers’ church continues to stand behind their man.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Loren Copp Arrested on Child Pornography 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.

Last April, 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:

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.

Yesterday, Federal prosecutors additionally charged Copps with:

two charges of using interstate facilities to persuade a minor to engage in sexual activity [and] three counts of transmitting information about a minor with the intent to encourage sexual activity.

The Southeastern Missourian reports:

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported a new indictment accuses Dojo Pizza’s Loren Copp of two charges of using interstate facilities to persuade a minor to engage in sexual activity. It also added three counts of transmitting information about a minor with the intent to encourage sexual activity.

The indictment alleges Copp tried to get two girls to convince an underage girl to expose her breasts online.

Copp already was facing charges of production, attempted production and possession of child pornography.

Copp pleaded not guilty to the original indictment. His attorney wants a judge to throw out evidence obtained or statements made during searches of Copp’s restaurant and home.

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.”

A March 3, 2018 St. Louis Post-Dispatch story reports:

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 111, 2018, Copp told the court he is innocent and that there’s an explanation for the child porn on his computer.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Larry Holley Accused of Stealing Millions in Investment Scheme

pastor larry holley

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.

Larry Holley, pastor of Abundant Life Ministries in Flint, Michigan, stands accused of defrauding people out of millions in a sketchy investment scheme. The Washington Post reports: (link no longer active)

Federal regulators are accusing a pastor in Michigan of fraud, saying he used the Bible to persuade retirees and laid-off auto workers to invest more than $6 million with him.

The Securities and Exchange Commission says the Rev. Larry Holley and his Treasure Enterprise LLC owe 43 Michigan investors about $2 million. The government believes Holley also owes investors in 13 other states.

He has not been criminally charged.

The government said Thursday that Holley promised risk-free returns from real estate. He is pastor of Abundant Life Ministries in Flint, Michigan. A Detroit federal judge has frozen his assets.

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The government says he told investors that he was more credible than a banker because he prayed for their children.

Abundant Life’s Facebook page states:

Distributors of knowledge, wisdom, wealth, & substance throughout the world for the expansion of the Kingdom of God.

Sounds like the good pastor was focused on the wealth part of the church’s mission statement.

A May 22, 2018 ABC-12 report states that Holly and his partner in crime, Patricia Gray, have been indicted on charges of wire and mail fraud, conspiracy and money laundering.

Black Collar Crime: Catholic Priest Convicted of Bank Fraud

Hien Minh Nguyen

Hien Minh Nguyen, former pastor of St. Patrick’s Church in San Jose, California and the director of the Vietnamese Catholic Center was convicted Tuesday of bank fraud. The Mercury News reports:

Prosecutors said Nguyen received donations from parishioners at St. Patrick’s, some of which he deposited into his bank account, and also signed checks from the VCC’s bank accounts to pay his expenses.

In addition, Nguyen deposited 14 separate checks made payable to the VCC into his bank account.

Nguyen, who was charged with 14 counts of bank fraud in December 2015, pleaded guilty on Tuesday. In August 2016, he also pleaded guilty to four counts of tax evasion.

The maximum penalty for bank fraud is 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine or twice the gain or loss from the offense. Tax evasion carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

In 2016, Forbes reported:

A Catholic Priest from the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Jose, California has pleaded guilty to tax evasion. Father Hien Minh Nguyen, age 56, admitted that over a period of four years, he stole money from his parishioners. He took the money parishioners had donated to the Diocese for himself. And, from 2008 through 2011, he willfully evaded paying income taxes on it.

Although the money was for the church, Father Nguyen admitted that he deposited it into his personal bank account. Then, he did not tell his income tax return preparer about it. He did not keep records of the donations he stole, and he filed false income tax returns that did not report the money. Although the Priest plead guilty to the tax charges, Father Nguyen has pleaded not guilty to the bank fraud charges. So those charges remain pending.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Trevon Gross Convicted of Conspiracy and Bribery

pastor trevon gross

Trevon Gross, pastor of Hope Cathedral in Jackson, New Jersey was convicted in federal court today of conspiracy and bribery.  Reuters reports:

A New Jersey pastor and a Florida software engineer were convicted on Friday of scheming to help an illegal bitcoin exchange avoid having banks and regulators look into its activities.

The bitcoin exchange, Coin.mx, was linked to an investigation of a data breach at JPMorgan Chase & Co, revealed in 2014, that exposed more than 83 million accounts.

Pastor Trevon Gross, 47, and programer Yuri Lebedev, 39, were convicted of conspiracy and bribery charges by a jury in Manhattan federal court after a week of deliberations, according to a spokesman for federal prosecutors. Lebedev was also convicted of wire fraud and bank fraud.

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Prosecutors charged that Lebedev helped arrange bribes to Gross, including $150,000 in donations to his church. In exchange, they say, Gross helped the operator of Coin.mx, Anthony Murgio, take over a small credit union Gross ran from his church.

Murgio used the credit union to evade scrutiny of banks wary of processing payments involving the virtual currency, prosecutors say. Lebedev was accused of working for Coin.mx through a front called “Collectables Club.”

Hope Cathedral’s website still lists Gross as its pastor.

 

Black Collar Crime: Pastor Admits Defrauding 31 People of $1 Million

mark stafford

Mark Stafford, founder and pastor of New Birth Power Plex Ministries in North St. Louis, Missouri, pleaded guilty to federal charges, admitting that he defrauded thirty-one people of $1 million. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports:

An investment adviser and former St. Louis pastor pleaded guilty to federal charges Wednesday and admitted defrauding 31 victims of $1.08 million.

Mark Q. Stafford, 52, of O’Fallon, Mo., pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to mail fraud and filing a false tax return.

Stafford admitted that from at least March 2007 to July 2016 he misrepresented investments to clients of the Stafford Financial Firm. Stafford claimed to have opened accounts when he either didn’t deposit the money at all or deposited it in his own account, Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Finneran said in court.

Stafford had falsely promised returns of up to 20 percent, as well as bonuses upon investment, Finneran said. Stafford created false financial statements to dupe investors into believing his claims, and even used a false name in correspondence claiming to come from those firms, Finneran said.

He also used money from some clients to pay others, the prosecutor said.

Stafford failed to file tax returns for 2011 and 2013 and understated his 2011 income by $150,000, causing tax losses to the government of almost $100,000, Finneran said.

Stafford was the founder and pastor of New Birth Power Plex Ministries in the Baden area of north St. Louis, prosecutors said.

The Better Business Bureau of St. Louis issued a warning about Stafford and The Stafford Financial Firm last week, citing a Florissant railroad retiree and his daughter who said they’d lost their life savings.

The BBB said that Stafford steered investors to internet-based investment funds that were later targeted by regulators and law enforcement.

First Baptist Church of Hammond Sued Over Fraudulent Investment Scheme

jack schaap 2

Former pastor and convicted felon Jack Schaap continues to cast a long shadow over the First Baptist Church of Hammond congregation. According to the Northwest Indiana Times, Schaap and Deacon Thomas Kimmel pushed a fraudulent investment scheme that resulted in church members losing their investment. In 2014, Kimmel was convicted of fraud, sentenced to 22 years in prison, and ordered to pay $16.5 million in restitution. Schaap, who is serving a 12 year prison sentence for having sex with a church teenager, received a one percent commission on each church member’s investment. Kimmel received a ten percent commission. Neither man disclosed these commission to the church.

Two former First Baptist families are suing the church to recoup their lost investment. Kyle Telechan, a reporter for the Times had this to say about the latest First Baptist scandal:

The First Baptist Church of Hammond is being sued by two couples for money they said was lost in an investment scheme pushed by a former deacon who allegedly was hired by the church to provide “one-on-one financial counseling.”

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The lawsuit against First Baptist Church of Hammond, Inc., was filed this week by Joseph Elwell, Crystal Elwell, Robert Baldwin, and Deborah Baldwin, individually and as custodian for her two minor children. The Elwells are former Schererville residents now living in Yuma, Arizona, while Deborah Baldwin is a former Crown Point resident now living with her husband, Robert, in Kiel, Wisconsin.

Rick Hammond, an attorney representing the church, said Friday the church “believes the charges are baseless. That there has been absolutely no wrongdoing on behalf of the church and the church stands by its good works and the missionary work it has been doing in the community and around the world,” for decades.

“There are times when individuals may engage in wrongful conduct, but,” he said, “many people want to take that as an opportunity to wrongfully criticize the church.”

According to federal prosecutors, Kimmel sold investments in Sure Line Acceptance Corp. in churches across the country. The federal indictment against Kimmel characterized the corporation as a Ponzi scheme where investors were paid their interest from new investor money.

The lawsuit seeks to recover approximately $225,000 in losses supposedly incurred by the Elwells and $235,400 incurred by the Baldwins.

According to the lawsuit, by January 2006 Schapp (sic) had hired Kimmel to act as an employee of First Baptist Church for the purposes of providing financial advice, debt counseling, budgeting and investment advice for members of the First Baptist Church. Schaap allegedly informed church members during services that Kimmel “was the church’s financial adviser with offices on church premises and was available to members of the church for financial advice.”

The lawsuit states that Kimmel also “represented to parishioners” he had invested $450,000 of his own money in Sure Line and First Baptist Church of Hammond and Schaap had invested $1 million in the corporation.

According to the lawsuit, First Baptist Church and Schapp (sic) could “have terminated Kimmel’s ability to provide financial services to parishioners, solicit the Sure Line Investments, and the right to use First Baptist Church Office for the same purposes at any time.”

The lawsuit contends an attorney named David Gibbs, retained by First Baptist Church, advised Schaap around November 2007 they should not be offering Sure Line Investments to parishioners “because it could violate Indiana law and the parishioners were largely unsophisticated investors.”

“There are times when individuals may engage in wrongful conduct, but,” he said, “many people want to take that as an opportunity to wrongfully criticize the church.”

According to federal prosecutors, Kimmel sold investments in Sure Line Acceptance Corp. in churches across the country. The federal indictment against Kimmel characterized the corporation as a Ponzi scheme where investors were paid their interest from new investor money.

The lawsuit seeks to recover approximately $225,000 in losses supposedly incurred by the Elwells and $235,400 incurred by the Baldwins.

According to the lawsuit, by January 2006 Schapp had hired Kimmel to act as an employee of First Baptist Church for the purposes of providing financial advice, debt counseling, budgeting and investment advice for members of the First Baptist Church. Schaap allegedly informed church members during services that Kimmel “was the church’s financial adviser with offices on church premises and was available to members of the church for financial advice.”

The lawsuit states that Kimmel also “represented to parishioners” he had invested $450,000 of his own money in Sure Line and First Baptist Church of Hammond and Schaap had invested $1 million in the corporation.

According to the lawsuit, First Baptist Church and Schapp (sic) could “have terminated Kimmel’s ability to provide financial services to parishioners, solicit the Sure Line Investments, and the right to use First Baptist Church Office for the same purposes at any time.”

The lawsuit contends an attorney named David Gibbs, retained by First Baptist Church, advised Schaap around November 2007 they should not be offering Sure Line Investments to parishioners “because it could violate Indiana law and the parishioners were largely unsophisticated investors.”

While Jack Schaap supporters — yes, he still has them — will place all the blame on Kimmel, those of us who understand how First Baptist Church operates know that the authoritarian Schaap had full knowledge of what Kimmel was doing. Schaap and Kimmel used trusting congregants as a means to amass wealth. In Schaap’s case, not only did he sexually prey on a trusting church teenager, he also financially preyed on numerous church families. And if it is true that Schaap indeed had $1 million invested in Sureline Acceptance Corporation, perhaps someone should be asking where this money came from.

The financial aspects of the lives of former pastors Jack Hyles and Jack Schaap and First Baptist Church have never been investigated. Those of us who spent years in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) have heard countless stories about the largess of Hyles and Schaap. While these anecdotal stories make for wonderful sermon illustrations, few bother to question their veracity. Defenders of Hyles’ empire would have people believe that Hyles and Schaap were selfless servants of the most high God. My gut tells me that these men are really far different from the persona presented to the thousands of people who called them pastor. To those who would suggest that Kimmel’s and Schaap’s investment scheme had nothing to do with Jack Hyles, I say this: Jack Hyles conditioned generations of congregants to accept without question his “leadership.” Hyles’ son-in-law Schaap followed in his father-in-law’s authoritarian footsteps. Both men were megalomaniacs who — in the name of God — abused, misused, and took advantage of countless church members. Until First Baptist congregants are able to see this, they will continue to be easy prey for so called “men of God.”

Note

Story on Thomas Kimmel’s conviction and sentencing.

Class action lawsuit filed against First Baptist.