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Thursday, May 31, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor accused of diverting church money for personal use

There's nothing Sue Arellano loved more than her church -- Faith 3 Ministries on First Colonial Road in Virginia Beach.

"The moment I set foot in the church, I could feel the presence of God here and I knew this was my home," she said.

Arellano worked as church treasurer as her way to give back. But by taking on that job, she took on something she says she never imagined.

"I thought I could trust him. I had all the faith in him, I really did," she said.

Arellano is suing her pastor. According to the suit she filed with other church members, Pastor Ken Montgomery repeatedly approached her looking for money.
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"He would come to my house most of the time and say 'I need a check. I need to buy something. I don't know where I'm going. I don't know how much it is,'" she said.

It's all alleged in the suit. Arellano says she would give him blank checks from the church's account and the pastor would never come back with a receipt. Thousands of dollars were disappearing from the church's bank account.

"I even made a list of all the checks, the dates, and gave it to him two or three times," she added.

Arellano took her concerns to church trustees Wilma Sirene and Bertha Borjas, two 30-year members.

"She was upset and I was flabbergasted when I saw all this money that was taken from the church. What happened to the money, where did it go." Sirene wondered.

Together, the women hired attorney Bill Lascara. The bank records, insurance documents, even telephone logs that are all attached to the lawsuit.

According to the suit, "On February 10, Ken Montgomery demanded a check for $13,000 from the church bank account ... and days later, Montgomery paid his mortgage company $12,000."

"The paper trail doesn't lie," Lascara commented.

Just last week, there was more documentation and not just from the lawsuit. This time, a court investigator dug into the records and he concluded Montgomery "converted cash in an effort to obscure or hide his use of church funds."

It went on to say he and his wife did this "primarily to redeem their personal residence from foreclosure on three occasions."

"When you write a check for $13,500 from a church that you know has no money, you know something is wrong," Sirene said.

A dig into Montgomery's background shows he's a seven-time convicted felon charged with larceny and embezzlement. Court records show he's failed to pay child support and has filed bankruptcy.

The report from the court's investigator says Montgomery was on a ten-year sentence from a previous crime. And these latest acts "may have violated the good behavior conditions of his sentence."

"I was just utterly disgusted with the whole matter, me and the ladies and the other trustees met and got a plan of action," said church member Rob Foley.

According to the suit, when the trustees confronted the pastor, some were kicked out and others were threatened with arrest and banned from the church.

"At my age, arrested because I want to go and worship and serve the Lord. How can they tell me I can't come back to my own church," Sirene wonders.

There's more. Documents filed by the trustees show Montgomery told the church's insurance company the church was burglarized.

The documents appear to show $52,000 worth of replacement items bought with the insurance company picking up the tab. According to the complaint, and backed by the investigator, the money didn't go to the church, it went to Pastor Montgomery.

The court investigator concluded a $52,000 receipt is fake, along with two others.

13News tried to talk to the pastor. He ran from us in a parking lot, then called and said he would talk, only to never show up.

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