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Tuesday, February 28, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor Appeals Move to Revoke His License

SALT LAKE CITY UTAH: A Christian pastor who could lose his license to run a rehabilitiation group for homeless men is appealing.

Following a KSL Eyewitness News investigation, the Department of Human Services issued a notice of revokation to Steve Sandlin. Sandlin is a pastor for the Central Christian Church.

According to the notice, Sandlin forced homeless men to work as telemarketers in the basement of the church. Their wage: about 28 cents an hour. And even that money was withheld-- donated back to the church.

The homeless men told KSL Sandlin forced them to sign contracts or threatened they'd go back to jail.

Sandlin and another pastor, Robert Ferris, appealed the state's notice, and they've reqested a hearing. It's scheduled for the beginning of April. During that hearing, a judge will decide whether to revoke the license.


Prior reports:

Feb 2:
Program Meant to Help Men in Need, Not What it Seemed

An Eyewitness News investigation today prompted state licensing officials to shut down a program operated by a local church, for a large number of wide-ranging violations.

Investigative Reporter Debbie Dujanovic uncovered exploitation of labor, paying men 28-cents an hour, violations the State found as a result of our two-month investigation.

The men in our report, thought they'd found a support program that would help them keep the faith, find a job and give them shelter, while they turned their lives around. Here's what we uncovered about a pastor and his flock.

Pastor Steve Sandlin: "I don't trust you. I don't have any confidence that you are reporting the truth at all."

Pastor Steve Sandlin runs Central Christian Church in Salt Lake. On one floor he delivers the word of God.

Pastor Steve Sandlin: "I pray that you would open our eyes to see just how terrible sin is. Who is the truth? Jesus is the truth."

On another, he reaches out to homeless men, men on parole, through a church shelter called House of Refuge. It's a state licensed program promising Christian values and life skills. Judges send men there, state agencies drop them off. What they might not know is what's down in the basement.

Documents show the Pastor runs a private business, Transmetron.

James Johnson, Former Homeless Man: "The pastor ownsthe company, Pastor Steve."

Men told us they're forced to sign contracts.

James Auston, Court Ordered to Program: "He'll stand up and threaten, 'We'll just put you back in jail, contact your probation officer.' He threatens us with jail all the time."

James Johnson: "I wasn't in a place to try and say anything because I had no other place to turn."

James Auston: "I was referred up here, thinking that this program was something else that it's not."

The men say they work in an area of the church basement. It's one room, with two Transmetrons. On one side is Transmetron Staffing Agency. The men say if they find work outside the church, the company collects a fee. On the other side, they say they work as telemarketers.

Former House of Refuge Resident: "What we do is sell drug testing supplies."

James Johnson: "On any given day I probably make 150 calls, most of them cold calls."

Their pay?

John Rupp, Court Ordered to Program: "For the first three and a half weeks I was there, I believe I was making 58-cents an hour."

James Auston: "My pay? I'm making $1.28 an hour." Debbie Dujanovic: "You're working 40 to 50 hours a week?"

House of Refuge Client: "Yeah, I make $60 a week."

And he says the men don't get paychecks, but receipts, because the contract says whatever they do make must be donated back to the program. Do it for six-months and the contract states, they get a "love offering," part of your donation back. Except Leo Duran says he got kicked out with days to go.

Leo Duran, Former House of Refuge Resident: "When he threw me out, I had to go back on the streets, live with my friends, and start over."

We took our investigation to six state agencies, our first stop the Labor Commission.

Brent Asay, Utah Labor Commission: "Based on what you've told me, it would appear this is something for us to look into."

After our visit, the company was put on notice: follow state law, pay minimum wage -- $5.15 an hour, and make up back pay.

Pastor Steve Sandlin: "I'm paying the residents $5.15 an hour."
Reporter: "Since when? Since the Labor Commission made the ruling?"
Pastor Steve Sandlin: "Yes, that's right."

Next was Consumer Protection. Investigators went to see why there's a phone bank in the church basement.

Francine Giani, Division of Consumer Protection: "They are not registered to do business in the state of Utah as telemarketers."

Based on our investigation, the Department of Human Services launched its own. Tonight they issued a revocation notice. The report cites exploitation: using the men's labor for personal gain.

Ken Stettler, Dept. of Human Services: "If you're going to be in this program, this is who you will fork for and this is what you will be paid, and so they didn't have an option."

The state plans to revoke the license in 10-days, but it can request a hearing.

Because of our investigation, other agencies took action. The Justice system and Corrections department authorized men to get out of the program and the Utah Food Bank cut off its free food deliveries, concerned the men were being charged for food.

Feb 3:
Pastor at Church Program Could Face More Charges

An Eyewitness News Investigation about a church program takes a new twist tonight. The Pastor is already accused of paying men as little as 28-cents an hour, putting them to work at his private company, threatening them with jail. The State announced plans to shut down the program. So what else could possibly surface?

We told you about the House of Refuge program last night. The program promises to teach men Christian values, give them a place to live, while they turn their lives around. The new allegation against Pastor Steve Sandlin: assault.

Pastor Sandlin: "You're a criminal and you have no better sense."

James Auston, Former House of Refuge Client: "Okay."

Pastor Sandlin: "You're ungodly."

That's just part of what's on an audio tape we have from the program. There's more.

The state intends to shut down a program inside the pastor's church, called the House of Refuge, citing 13-violations. One of them, Pastor Sandlin allegedly assaulted one of the men in the program. The police took a report, then Pastor Sandlin is accused of pressuring him to withdraw his story or go back to jail.

We called the Pastor , who says the abuse allegation isn't true. Dave Wimmer says he saw it.

Dave Wimmer, Former House of Refuge Client: "Me and a couple of other guys jumped up, and that's when a bunch of shouting went on."

James Auston says he was assaulted by the pastor.

James Auston: "He shoved me in the corner and got back in my face again, and he told me,'I'll make the rules around here and you will call me sir.'"

What happened later? Auston says he caught it on tape when he took a recorder into a meeting with the Pastor.

Pastor Sandlin: "Here's your choice. You call the detective in the presence of everyone here, and say you know, 'I made a mistake, I did not, he did not shove me. If you can do that, or if you refuse and be stubborn and continue to lie, I will call your PO and tell him you falsified a police document.'"

James Auston: "I think that's witness tampering. I thing that's tampering with…"

Pastor Sandlin: "You're not an attorney."

James Auston: "Okay."

Pastor Sandlin: "You're not an attorney. You have a choice. You're going back to jail because of this."

He didn't go back to jail. The court system authorized him to get into a new program. The prosecutor's office confirms it's investigating criminal complaints. We'll keep you posted.