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Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Jerome Milton and His Son Accused of Defrauding Elderly Church Couple

pastor jerome milton

Jerome Rocky Milton, pastor of Open Door Bible Church in Tyler, Texas, and his son, Jerome Anthony Milton, stand accused of stealing over $30,000 from an elderly church couple through credit card withdrawals.

CBS-19 reports:

A Tyler pastor was accused of taking money from an elderly couple and also opened bank accounts without consent from his previous church to pay personal bills, police documents show. 

Jerome Milton, 65, of Tyler, was charged Saturday with two counts of credit or debit card abuse against the elderly and one count of property theft between $2,500 and $30,000. He remained Friday in the Smith County Jail since his arrest on bonds totaling $550,000. 

Milton is the reverend for Open Door Bible Church in Tyler, and according to the arrest affidavit, Milton was helping take care of an elderly couple at church and had the power of attorney and finances for them.

Another CBS-19 report adds:

The son of a Tyler pastor who is accused of stealing over $30,000 from an elderly couple through credit card withdrawals has been indicted on a similar charge. 

A grand jury handed down an indictment for Jerome Anthony Milton, who is the son of Rev. Jerome Rocky Milton, on a credit or debit card abuse against the elderly charge on March 31.

Rev. Milton, 66, of Tyler, was indicted Dec. 9 on a charge of property theft between $30,000 and $150,000 (against an elderly individual), according to judicial records. 

Police documents show Rev. Milton unlawfully took $30,881.70 from an elderly married couple through multiple check withdrawals from their bank account and ATM transactions. He is then accused of using the funds for his own benefit, such as car payments and hotel rooms in Brownwood.

According to the March 31 indictment, over a seven-month period, the younger Milton fraudulently benefited from using the same elderly couple’s debit cards.

An arrest affidavit stated that Rev. Milton served as the reverend at Open Door Bible Church in Tyler at the time of his arrest, and he was caring for the elderly married couple from his church. He had the power of attorney and finances for the couple.

The woman has impaired memory, while her husband is completely bedridden due to an injury, the affidavit said.

In the affidavit regarding Rev. Milton’s arrest, the document stated that Jerome Anthony Milton was seen making ATM withdrawals from the elderly man’s bank account. 

Rev. Milton told police his son would make withdrawals for him because the elderly man liked to keep cash in his wallet. The elder Milton couldn’t provide a reason why the man, who was bedridden, needed so much cash, the document explained.

October 2021 Black Collar Crime post about Jerome Milton.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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

ashton stombres

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

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

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

ABC-10 reports:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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UPDATED: Black Collar Crime: Baptist Pastor Riley Brown Pleads Guilty to Stealing $332,000 From Church

pastor riley brown

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 2017, Riley Brown, executive pastor of Broadmoor Baptist Church in Madison, Mississippi, was accused of stealing $332,000 from the church.

The Clarion-Ledger reported:

A Baptist pastor is accused of stealing more than $300,000 over more than two years.

In an emailed statement, officials with Broadmoor Baptist Church said former executive pastor Riley Brown took $332,000 from the church coffers over a “primarily” 27-month period.

Brown could not be reached for comment.

The “transactions” were discovered after an internal policy review in September, according to the statement.

“These transactions were undertaken by one individual, Riley Brown, circumventing our existing internal policies and procedures,” the statement read.

Brown is no longer employed with the church. Church officials are reporting the matter to the Internal Revenue Service and the Mississippi Department of Revenue.

The church will not press criminal charges but will cooperate with prosecutors, according to the emailed statement. Madison County District Attorney Michael Guest was not immediately available.

“As a body of Christ, we sought to find a proper balance between accountability and grace; and given our exchanges in personnel and significant new safeguards and internal controls we have added, and will continue to add, we are confident we can responsibly steward the resources entrusted to us,” the statement reads. “While we choose not to press criminal charges against this individual, we will fully cooperate with prosecutors if it is independently pursued.”

Update

An October 27, 2017, MS News Now report stated:

Broadmoor released a statement that an internal policy review showed that more than $330 thousand dollars was unaccounted for.

The church also said that Brown was no longer with the church and that findings were turned over to the IRS and the Dept of Revenue.

Though he would not take any questions, Brown spoke to us exclusively about the situation.

“I am innocent of any alleged theft. This is a civil matter that was settled two weeks ago.”

….

An email statement from church stated:

As a body of Christ, we sought to find a proper balance between accountability and grace; and given our exchanges in personnel and significant new safeguards and internal controls we have added, and will continue to add, we are confident we can responsibly steward the resources entrusted to us. While we choose not to press criminal charges against this individual, we will fully cooperate with prosecutors if it is independently pursued.

In an October 31, 2017, Clarion-Ledger news report, Brown denied he stole any money from the church:

The former pastor of a central Mississippi Baptist church disputes claims that he stole $332,000 from the church.

The Rev. Riley Brown tells WLBT-TV that he’s innocent of any theft and signed a civil settlement with Broadmoor Baptist Church two weeks ago.

The Southern Baptist congregation in Madison is among the largest in the state.

More: Church says pastor stole over $300,000 from coffers

The church last week said Brown made unauthorized transactions for his own benefit over 27 months. Brown’s lawyer says it’s a dispute over church policy, not a criminal matter.

Broadmoor’s leaders say they’re not pressing charges but have notified income tax officials.

Madison County District Attorney Michael Guest says he was unaware of the claims before the church released a statement but is investigating. The church says it will cooperate if Guest intervenes.

In August 2019, Brown pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 15 years in prison, with 10 years suspended.

ABC-16 reported:

The former pastor of Broadmoor Baptist Church has been sentenced to prison after pleading guilty to embezzlement, Madison County court officials said.

James Riley Brown is accused of stealing $332,000 from the church to pay his mortgage between February 2014 and August 2017. The Southern Baptist congregation in Madison is among the largest in the state.

Documents show Brown transferred church funds into his personal bank account, including one transaction of nearly $36,000.

Brown was sentenced to 15 years in prison, with 10 years suspended and five years to serve, court officials said. He was also sentenced to serve five years’ probation once he’s released.

Church members initially said they wouldn’t press charges, but the Madison County district attorney’s office carried out its own investigation.

Brown served as executive pastor of the church from 2014 to 2017, when an audit exposed the missing money.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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UPDATED: Black Collar Crime: Catholic Priest David Fisher Sentenced to Five Years in Prison for Stealing $450,000

busted

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

In 2017, David Fisher, former pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Owosso, Michigan was accused of stealing $450,000 from his parish. M Live reported:

A Catholic church in Shiawassee County is reeling after it was discovered the former pastor there is accused of stealing nearly $500,000.

The Rev. David Fisher was in charge of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Owosso for 23 years and retired to North Dakota in June 2015.

A new pastor was brought in and noticed some figures were off with the parish’s finances, according to Michael Diebold, director of communications for the Catholic Diocese of Lansing.

“They started seeing some anomalies,” Diebold said. “It became obvious real soon that there was something amiss.”

The Diocese contacted the Michigan State Police and it was recommended a forensic audit, Diebold said.

The audit revealed there was $450,000 missing, according to Diebold.

Fisher was arrested in North Dakota on suspicion of seven counts of embezzlement, Michigan State Police Detective/Sgt. Mark Pendergraff said.

The investigation into the suspected thefts can only go back six years due to the statute of limitations, according to Pendergraff.

Fisher was charged with a count of embezzlement of over $100,000 from a charitable organization and the other six counts of for alleged embezzlement of lesser amounts, Pendergraff said.

Church secretary Nancy DeFrenn also was arrested, according to Pendergraff. She is charged with a single count of embezzlement from a charitable organization of more than $1,000 but less than $20,000.

“We didn’t give out specifically what they were using the money for, but they converted it for personal use — things like paying bills and other things,” Pendergraff said.

Fisher is fighting extradition back to Michigan, according to Pendergraff. A hearing on the extradition is set for March 29.

In September 2017, Fisher was found guilty and sentenced to a minimum sentence of five years in prison.

The Lansing Journal reported:

A retired priest has been sentenced to at least five years in prison for stealing tens of thousands of dollars from a Michigan church.

The Rev. David Fisher was pastor for 23 years at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Owosso, 90 miles northwest of Detroit. He was sentenced Friday and ordered to repay $127,000.

Fisher retired in 2015 and moved to Grand Forks, North Dakota. He’ll be eligible for parole after five years in prison. His maximum sentence is 15 years in prison.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Jerome Milton Accused of Credit Card Abuse and Property Theft

pastor jerome milton

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.

Jerome Milton, pastor of Open Door Bible Church in Tyler, Texas, stands accused of two counts of credit or debit card abuse against the elderly and one count of property theft between $2,500 and $30,000.

The Tyler Morning Telegraph reports:

Jerome Rocky Milton, 65, of Tyler, was charged Saturday with two counts of credit or debit card abuse against the elderly and one count of property theft between $2,500 and $30,000. He remained Friday in the Smith County Jail since his arrest on bonds totaling $550,000.

Milton is the reverend for Open Door Bible Church in Tyler, and according to the arrest affidavit, Milton was helping take care of an elderly couple at church and had the power of attorney and finances for them.

The Tyler police investigation began when the elderly couple’s son heard two church members say Milton was misusing his parents’ bank cards and getting them to sign blank checks.

According to the affidavit, the investigation showed multiple debit card transactions and ATM withdrawals from the elderly husband’s bank card. The detective said multiple checks were written from the couple’s account to Milton and his personal and church accounts.

He repeatedly used the couple’s money to make personal payments on his own behalf, according to the affidavit.

Bank records and receipts showed the elderly man’s card was used to make a vehicle payment on Milton’s account with an auto repair shop. Records also showed Milton used the man’s card to pay for a loan at a used car business, the affidavit stated.

When questioned about using the couple’s cards to make his vehicle payments, Milton at first denied the act. When shown the receipt, the detective said Milton could not explain why that happened, the affidavit read.

The document also shows Milton used the couple’s bank cards to withdraw cash between March and July. The cash withdrawals totaled about $3,800.

A detective said Milton could not explain how the withdrawn cash was used for the couple’s benefit. Milton told the officer the elderly man liked to keep cash in his wallet as a reason for the cash withdrawals, the affidavit stated.

During the investigation of the couple’s bank cards, the detective learned Milton was previously the pastor at Greater New Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Tyler, which was originally Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church.

According to the affidavit, Milton was asked to leave around 2018 by church membership because of “his handling of finances and other suspicious behavior on his part.”

Texas Bank and Trust records for Milton showed he deposited two checks totaling $5,000 written to him this past August from an American State Bank account named Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church. The checks were signed by Martha Roane, the affidavit read.

However, that American State Bank account was closed in 2018. Before Texas Bank and Trust officials were notified, Milton withdrew cash and paid bills with a portion of that $5,000, the affidavit read.

The closed account at Texas Bank and Trust had a negative balance of $2,991.52. When Milton wrote the first check of $3,000, the account balance was $21.29, the document stated.

The detective spoke to Kermit Lane, a current deacon with Greater New Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, who said the church did not write Milton those checks or any checks since he left the church about three years ago. He also said Greater New Pleasant has never had a bank account with American State Bank, according to the police document.

Lane told the detective Roane died earlier this year, and she was Milton’s personal secretary while at the church. At that time, she had no permission to sign any checks written from the church or make any financial decisions for the church, the affidavit stated.

Milton gave the police a document showing church trustees voted to allow him to open bank accounts in the church’s name. The account, which was closed in 2018, had several donation checks written to the church deposited during the year it was open. Several checks were also written from the account and it was used to pay personal expenses like cable bills and house rent, the affidavit stated.

Lane later told the detective Milton’s document allowing him to open the bank account was false, and Milton was only allowed briefly to access a church bank account to assist with payments for a building while he was pastor. A Texas Bank and Trust official told the detective the bank wanted to prosecute Milton, according to the affidavit.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Black Collar Crime: United Church of Christ Pastor Scott Nedberg Charged with Felony Theft

pastor scott nedberg

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.

Scott Nedberg, pastor of Warren United Church of Christ in Warren, Indiana, stands accused of felony theft.

WANE-15 reports:

A Huntington County pastor has been arrested on allegations he swindled money from a woman on the promise he could make charges against her son go away.

Scott E. Nedberg, 68, faces a charge of felony Theft in Huntington Circuit Court.

According to a probable cause affidavit, Nedberg – the pastor at Warren United Church of Christ in Warren – told a woman “he could have charges for her son dismissed or receive a reduced sentence for a sum of $8,000.”

The case began when the woman told a local attorney about the claim, and he called Huntington County Prosecutor Amy Richison. The attorney told Richison that after the woman told him the pastor’s claim, he gave her an audio recorder to record a conversation with the pastor.

In a meeting, the pastor reportedly told the woman for $8,000, he could either make sure the case is “shoved under other cases and never be filed,” or see to it that the woman’s son is sentenced to a rehab facility. The pastor said the $8,000 fee would be paid to the Huntington County Sheriff’s Department, the county prosecutor’s office and the county probation department, who “all get a cut of the money,” the affidavit said.

….

Days later, police worked with the woman and set a meeting time for her to drop off the $2,000 to the pastor at his church. Police gave her $2,000 and put a recording device on her, the affidavit said.

In the church, police listened as the woman handed over the cash and the two talked about the remaining $6,000. After the woman left the church, police converged and arrested Nedberg.

In an interview with investigators, Nedberg said the whole promise was a lie, which he devised because he was in “‘so much debt that he is about to lose everything,” according to the affidavit said. He said he planned to use the $2,000 to pay bills, and said he never intended to keep the remaining $6,000.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Kyle Harrison Accused of Absconding with $50,000

pastor kyle harrison

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 2017, Kyle Harrison, pastor of Harvest Church in Starke, Florida, was accused of misrepresenting himself as a licensed contractor. Harrison later pleaded guilty and was ordered to repay the victim $26,009.25 he took from her as payment for the work he never completed. Harrison was fired from his job with Harvest Church and now lives in Orlando, Florida.

Last week, Mike and Charlene Oliver accused Harrison of not returning a $50,000 investment loan. News 4-JAX reports:

A Starke couple turns to the I-TEAM after they say their trusted pastor failed to pay them back after loaning him thousands of dollars.

….

At the time of the loan, Harrison was the senior pastor at Harvest Church in Starke. Mike and Charlene Oliver trusted him so much, Mike agreed to loan Harrison $50,000 as an investment into Harrison’s business, Transformation Ministries

As a member of Harvest Church, Mike had turned to Harrison for spiritual guidance when Mike was diagnosed at age 40 with lung disease. He was given just three to five years to live and wanted his family to benefit from the investment if he died.

“I wanted to have money come back for my family in case something happened, and I was no longer here,” Mike explained.

The only cure was a lung transplant, but because of Mike’s deteriorating medical condition, he says two hospitals had already denied enrolling him as an organ recipient.

“He was the pastor, so why wouldn’t you trust the pastor,” said Mike.

“He made us feel like he genuinely loved us,” said Charlene.

….

Mike says he was forced to take medical retirement as a Corrections Officer, and Transformation Ministries — which employed ex-offenders as car mechanics — appeared to be a viable business.

“We had a whole bunch of business,” said Mike, who spent time working at the shop himself.

The Olivers drew up a lengthy contract, which has Kyle Harrison’s signature. It detailed a monthly payment plan of $488 and included a list of collateral that would become the Olivers’ property if Harrison failed to repay the loan.

“At first he paid us,” said Mike.

But that didn’t last. The Olivers said the monthly payments became more inconsistent.

“He’s the pastor, so we were like, ‘We will give you a little more time,'” Mike said he told Harrison.

….

The Olivers now say they believe Harrison took advantage of Mike’s medical condition and never thought he would have to pay back the money because Mike was so sick.

….

They said they have not heard from Harrison in more than a year and said Harrison’s phone has been disconnected.

While the Olivers said they know they probably won’t get their money back, they reached out to the I-TEAM because they want to warn anyone else who might come in contact with Harrison.

“He has the gift of gab,” said Charlene.

“He is not what he pretends to be. He’ll make you feel like everything he’s doing is Godly and, ‘I’m trying to help you,’ and that’s not the case.” Mike added. “I don’t want nobody else to be hurt by him or anyone else. I want people to be careful, be careful.”

Sadly, some congregants learn the hard way that pastors can be grifters, and just because they are charming and charismatic doesn’t mean they won’t fleece you if given the opportunity.

Transformation Ministries is now closed. It is highly unlikely that the Olivers will see their $50,000 again. Giving money to God and his representatives on earth is always risky business.

Kyle Harrison’s testimony:

During the foundational stage of our church, Harvest Christian Fellowship in 1998, I was seeking the voice of the Father concerning His plan and purpose for this ministry. My personal testimony concerning drug abuse is not that impressive compared to some. In the mid 80’s like many other high school students I drank, smoked pot, and experimented with powder cocaine. But by the time I graduated from high school I had given all that up, at the time I thought I gave it up for a girl, who six months latter became my wonderful wife. But soon after that I realized it was all in the plan of God.

In 1999 while praying on a park bench at 2 am, at a time where I felt that I was in desperate need of a word form God, the Spirit of God led me to Matthew’s gospel. There I saw the Jesus made the statement that basically said, if the multitude had not made the choice to follow Christ they would not have had a physical need. God began to show me that there was going to be people in our future that were going to make the decision to follow Christ, and because of that choice they were going to have needs that typical church ministry could not meet. So from that moment on my spirit was open to any opportunity that would bring that word into fruition.    Not long after Transformation Ministries was born.

As the years have rolled on we have done many  things wrong, and many right. All the while trying to hear the voice of the Lord. The need for this type of skill training ministry is undeniable, and as we look into the future, we see the need getting greater and greater.

Prior to becoming pastor of Harvest Church, Harrison was a worship leader. A 2001 Charisma article mentions Harrison:

Members of the ethnically diverse fellowship [Potter’s House] describe [Vaughn] McLaughlin as a spiritual father who has gone out on a limb to lead them. Kyle Harrison, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Starke, Florida, was a worship leader when he met McLaughlin. Now he is pastoring the only multiethnic congregation within three counties of his church.

Harrison, who is white, says McLaughlin has mentored him and even paid his debts. “This man who I call my bishop, if it weren’t improper, I’d call him father,” Harrison says.

And he [McLaughlin] “even paid my debts.” Warning, Will Robinson, Warning!

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

douglas haefner

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

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

Bishop James F. Checchio said of the matter:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

pastor gary ray

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

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

Stanwood Camano News reports:

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

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

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

Oso Community Chapel released the following statement:

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

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

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

The Daily Herald adds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some at the Camano church have alleged much greater losses.

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

Bruce Gerencser