Tag Archive: Word of Faith Fellowship Spindale

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Church Members Accused of Unemployment Benefits Scheme

jerry gross

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.

Jerry Gross and his son Jason stand accused of bilking the state out of $150,000 in unemployment benefits. The Citizen Times reports that both men are expected to plead guilty to wire fraud charges. The Gross’s are members of Word of Faith Fellowship Church in Spindale, North Carolina. Authorities are investigating other church members in what could be a scheme cooked up by church founder Jane Whaley to “help” congregants continued to pay their mandated tithes.

The Associated Press reports:

Former congregant Randy Fields had told the AP that his construction company faced potential ruin around 2008 because of the cratering economy, so he pleaded with church leaders to reduce the amount of money he was required to tithe every week.

To his shock, Fields said church founder Jane Whaley proposed a plan that would allow him to continue contributing at least 10 percent of his income to the Word of Faith Fellowship while helping his company survive: He would file fraudulent unemployment claims on behalf of his employees. She called it, he said, “God’s plan.”

The unemployment allegations were uncovered as part of the AP’s ongoing investigation into Word of Faith, which has about 750 congregants in rural North Carolina and a total of nearly 2,000 members in its branches in Brazil and Ghana and its affiliations in Sweden, Scotland and other countries.

….

Over the years, church leaders have owned and operated more than two dozen businesses.

Those stories led to investigations in the U.S. and Brazil.

As for the alleged unemployment scheme, interviews with former followers, along with documents reviewed by the AP, indicated at least six companies owned by leaders were involved with filing fraudulent unemployment claims between 2008 and 2013. Most of those businesses’ employees are congregants, the AP found.

The AP reviewed individual checking account records that showed unemployment benefits deposited by the state, along with income tax records summarizing how much money some of the former followers interviewed received annually in such payments.

….

The church, of course, denies all of the allegations, stating that the AP articles are meant to incite hate crimes against Word of Faith Fellowship Church.

Previous Article: Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Brooke Covington Tries to Beat the Gay Out of a Man

Please read WLOS-13 article titled, New Investigation into Abuse at Word of Faith Fellowship

 

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Brooke Covington Tries to Beat the Gay Out of a Man

brooke covington

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.

Brooke Covington, a minister with Word of Faith Fellowship in Spindale, North Carolina, is standing trial on kidnapping and assault charges. Prosecutors allege that Covington and other church members tried to beat the gay out of congregant Matthew Fenner.

The Daily Mail reports:

One of five people charged with beating a fellow church member to expel homosexual demons admitted in court that she started the physical assault by slapping the man.

Sarah Anderson testified Friday that she told other leaders at Word of Faith Fellowship she thought Matthew Fenner was unclean and sinful.

Minister Brooke Covington is standing trial on kidnapping and assault charges.

Anderson says Covington began the confrontation by screaming at Fenner after a January 2013 service at the church in Spindale, North Carolina.

She says she then slapped Fenner, and then Covington and about 30 others joined in, slapping, beating, choking and screaming at the man for two hours.

….

Previously when Fenner testified, he said he thought he was ‘going to die’ when members of the evangelical church beat and choked him for two hours to expel his ‘homosexual demons.’

Fenner, 23, said Covington pointed out his sexual orientation, saying, ‘God said there is something wrong in your life.’

Fenner said he had cancer as a child and had a biopsy one week before he was assaulted.

‘I’m frail and in my mind, I’m thinking, “Is my neck going to break, am I going to die?”’ Fenner said.

Prosecutor Garland Byers said during opening statements that Covington ‘directed and participated in’ the assault.

Covington’s lawyer, David Teddy, tried to poke holes in Fenner’s testimony, noting that Fenner praised the church in his high school graduation speech and visited a Word of Faith Fellowship church in Brazil.

‘Before I got to Word of Faith, my life was filled with sin,’ Teddy said, quoting from the transcript of one of those speeches.

Teddy also said Fenner never told anyone to stop hitting him. ‘When you’ve been emotionally abused, you cannot say stop,’ Fenner said.

Complaining would have made the punishment worse, Fenner said.

During opening statements, Teddy said the congregation gave Fenner routine prayer that lasted no longer than 15 to 20 minutes. When the prayer was over, Fenner ‘hugged everybody and left the church,’ Teddy said.

As part of an ongoing, two-year investigation into abuse of Word of Faith Fellowship congregants by church leaders, The Associated Press interviewed four former church members who say they witnessed Fenner being attacked.

Based on interviews with 43 former members, documents and secretly made recordings, it was reported in February that Word of Faith Fellowship congregants were regularly punched, smacked, choked, slammed to the floor or thrown through walls in a violent form of deliverance meant to ‘purify’ sinners by beating out devils.

The church has scores of strict rules to control congregants’ lives, including whether they can marry or have children. Failure to comply often triggers a humiliating rebuke from the pulpit or, worse, physical punishment.

Members can’t watch television, go to the movies, read newspapers or eat in restaurants that play music or serve alcohol. If church leaders believe a congregant has sexual or dirty thoughts, they can be accused of being ‘unclean’ and be punished, the former members said.

….

The sect was founded in 1979 by Jane Whaley, a former math teacher, and her husband, Sam, a former used car salesman.

Under Jane Whaley’s leadership, Word of Faith Fellowship grew from a handful of followers to a 750-member congregation in North Carolina, and another nearly 2,000 members in churches in Brazil and Ghana.

Word of Faith denies the accusations made against the church and Covington. You can read their responses here.