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Saturday, January 12, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor charged with looting $300,000 from church

A Cleveland clergyman has been accused of stealing about $300,000 from the church, taking money from a fund for the poor and stealing parishioners' identities prior to his imprisonment last year on unrelated charges.

The Rev. Donald Ray Robinson, former pastor of Lane Metropolitan Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, was named yesterday in a 27-count indictment on charges of theft, securing records by deception, identity fraud and money laundering. His arraignment is set for Jan. 22.

An investigation began after parishioners found that Robinson, 56, used church property as collateral to obtain loans and laundered money through bank accounts, said Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor James Gutierrez.

He also drained the church's Benevolent Fund earmarked for the poor, stole the identities of church members to obtain illegal credit cards and pocketed a $5,000 grant from the Cleveland Foundation for a computer training program, Gutierrez said.

Robinson became pastor of Lane Metropolitan in the summer of 2005. The criminal activity occurred for about two years, Gutierrez said.

A separate indictment accuses a worship leader at the church of co-signing one of Robinson's loans and of money laundering.

Robinson could not be reached for comment. His telephone number is private and unavailable. The Cuyahoga County court clerk's office today had not been notified of a lawyer representing him.

A recorded message was left with the church.

Early last year, Robinson abruptly told church members he would be going away for 10 months. He was in federal prison in Pennsylvania after being convicted of a real estate scam in Mississippi, Gutierrez said. The Federal Bureau of Prisons said Robinson was released Dec. 14 after serving a sentence for wire fraud.

Church leaders said Monday they hoped the indictments would help the congregation to move forward.

"In some ways, it represents closure," said Lonnie Reid, president of the Steward Board.

But there are still wounds of betrayal.

"This is all new and traumatic for all of us," said Irene Crowell, a former Steward Board member who was part of a team conducting an internal church investigation. "As a Christian person, we understand everyone's human. Of course, I wouldn't expect anyone to do this. I wouldn't expect anyone to steal."

Church officials said active membership has held steady at about 150-200 people, with many longtime congregants committed to keeping the 105-year-old church going.

"We're going to stay in our church," said lay leader Sidney Cargle, a member since 1961.

"The old members are faithful members. They're going to be there," Reid said.

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