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Sunday, November 06, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

Former N.C. preacher ordered to pay Florida widow

A federal judge has ordered a former Greenville minister to start making payments to the estate of a Florida woman years after he was convicted of stealing from her.

U.S. District Court Judge Malcolm Howard last month ordered the Rev. Jim Whittington, 64, to pay $5,500 a month. Whittington _ who had expensive high-speed boats and a Rolls-Royce _ owed wheelchair-bound Valeria Lust $848,532.

The minister, formerly of Greenville and now living in Atlanta, and four other people were convicted in 1992 of stealing nearly $900,000 from the woman while he was the on-air presence for Fountain of Life ministries.

Lust has died and the Oct. 13 said the payments would be made to her estate.

Prosecutors said the minister kept his luxury lifestyle after leaving prison in 1995 and in 10 years had repaid less than 2 percent of the money he owed. They said his ministry paid for a country club membership, cars and jewelry.

"It is extremely disappointing that he has chosen not to pay this restitution when he's spent so much money on himself," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Norman Acker.

In a telephone interview, Whittington denied the theft and said he was a target of prosecutors. He said he doesn't get a salary from his current ministry, World Deliverance Crusade.

"I didn't take that woman's money," Whittington said. "She gave it to the ministry."