CLEVELAND, OHIO -- Artis Caver, former pastor of Harvest Missionary Baptist Church, has been judged harshly by a jury of his peers.
Caver was found guilty Thursday in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court on 25 counts of money laundering, perjury and theft stemming from accusations he stole nearly $400,000 from the church's bank account.
Jurors in Judge Nancy Margaret Russo's courtroom deliberated for about two hours before reaching the verdicts.
Caver was found guilty on single counts of theft and forgery, three counts of perjury and 20 counts of money laundering stemming from 2000.
The pastor, indicted by a Cuyahoga County grand jury in December, had used the majority of the money to rescue his failing bus business, AFC Charters Inc., according to Assistant County Prosecutor James Gutierrez.
The 56-year-old Caver, now pastor of New Life Cathedral in Cleveland, was led away in handcuffs after the verdict as a handful of members of the financially struggling Harvest Missionary Baptist Church stared in silence.
Gutierrez was pleased with the verdict and applauded the work of investigators.
"The evidence was overwhelming, and the jury did not take too long to agree," Gutierrez said. "But it's a sad day, actually. And it's a sad day for the members who he's preaching to now, because they think he didn't do anything."
Gutierrez said Caver "violated a sacred trust, and that's what is so repulsive about the case."
A few of Caver's former church members gathered outside the court after the verdict and expressed both joy and pain.
"You've got to forgive him, but I just don't like what he has done to the church," said Annie Jackson. Jackson said she and fellow worshipers bear no hatred, adding, "We've got to leave it in the hands of the Lord."
Another member, Albert Brooks, fears the church will never recover financially.
"I want the church to be the way he found it: debt-free. And that has not happened. We are still struggling."
In 2007, church members settled a civil-lawsuit against Rev. Caver out of court.