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Tuesday, August 29, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor sentenced to jail

FORT WORTH -- Terry Hornbuckle used to stand before thousands and preach the word of God.

On Monday, he stood silent in a Tarrant County courtroom and listened as one of the women he raped called him the devil.

"You are evil in every way," Kate Jones said defiantly. "You are truly pathetic in everyone's eyes."

Minutes after jurors sentenced Hornbuckle to 15 years in prison for drugging and raping her, Jones lambasted him in a three-page, double-spaced victim-impact statement, not only for what he did to her but also for sexually assaulting two other women.

In addition to that 15-year sentence, jurors sentenced Hornbuckle to 14 years in prison for raping Krystal Buchanan and 10 years in prison for raping a third woman, Jane Doe. Jones and Doe are pseudonyms.

"What you have done is the most horrible thing that anyone could do," Jones told Hornbuckle. "You preyed among the people you were supposed to help in their weakest moment."

Because Hornbuckle was tried for three rapes at once, the three sentences will run at the same time. Hornbuckle must serve half of the longest sentence, or 7 1/2 years, before he is eligible for parole.

Hornbuckle, a "prosperity preacher" who founded Agape Christian Fellowship in southeast Arlington, must also pay a $30,000 fine: $10,000 for each victim.

After the verdict, prosecutors Sean Colston and Betty Arvin praised jurors for giving Hornbuckle a long prison sentence and vindicating the women who came forward.

"You can't help but to be affected by what these women and their families have gone through," Arvin said.

Prosecutors had asked jurors for the maximum 20 years in prison.

Arvin, who has called Hornbuckle a charlatan, said she doesn't believe he feels remorse, even after sitting through the monthlong trial.

"I would like to hope that he does," Arvin said. "But, no, I don't think he does. I haven't seen any sign of it."

Defense attorney Mike Heiskell, who defended Hornbuckle with Leon Haley, said they had hoped for a "more compassionate sentence" for the pastor, who has three children. They had asked jurors to sentence Hornbuckle, who they say is addicted to methamphetamine, to probation so he could receive drug treatment.

Heiskell said he hopes Hornbuckle can find someone in the prison system "to get him back on the right road."

"Obviously, we are disheartened and disappointed by the sentence that was imposed by the jury," he said.

During the trial in state district Judge Scott Wisch's court, the three women described how Hornbuckle assaulted them.

Buchanan, a 23-year-old former basketball player at the University of Texas at Arlington and a former member of Hornbuckle's church, testified that he drugged and raped her in a Euless apartment in 2004.

Jane Doe, a 25-year-old former parishioner, told jurors that she turned to Hornbuckle for counseling after a devastating breakup with her boyfriend and that the sessions in 2003 turned sexual four or five times. In Texas, it is a crime for a clergyman to take advantage of a parishioner's emotional state for sex.

Jones, a 34-year-old single mother, testified that Hornbuckle drugged and raped her at her apartment after they smoked methamphetamine together in 2004.

Last week, the jury of nine women and three men found Hornbuckle guilty of all three charges.

During the punishment phase, jurors heard from a fourth woman who said Hornbuckle took advantage of her sexually during a church trip to San Antonio. They also heard that he continued to use drugs in the Tarrant County Jail.

After deliberating a total of 8 1/2 hours, jurors assessed his punishment Tuesday afternoon. When the judge announced the verdicts, Hornbuckle stood stoically. Sitting nearby, his wife, Renee, who has taken over as pastor of Agape, appeared stone-faced behind sunglasses.

She left shortly after the verdict was read.

On the other side of the courtroom, Jones and Loretta Sheppard, Buchanan's mother, held hands as tears welled up in their eyes.

Sheppard was the first to address Hornbuckle from the witness stand.

She read a victim-impact statement prepared by her daughter, who was not in court Monday. Buchanan described what her life has been like since she was raped, saying she was hurt "beyond belief."

"Hornbuckle, I hated you for a very long time," Sheppard read. "But there came a point in my life where I realized I was chosen by my Lord and savior to be used in a most difficult way. He needed me to stop you from doing to this to everyone and anyone who you may come in contact with."

In her statement, Buchanan called the jurors "disciples" and thanked them for backing her.

To Hornbuckle, she said, "You have finally lost."

Jones was next.

She also told Hornbuckle he betrayed her trust and nearly destroyed her life. But, like Buchanan, she credited her faith for the strength to stand up.

"I knew I had to survive," Jones told him. "I knew I had to make sure you were off the streets and behind bars. You have no right to ever be free; you are a rapist and you have shown that you will never quit."

She also told Hornbuckle to that he deserved to die for his crimes.

"I see no reason to waste taxpayers' dollars on a waste like you," she said.

After she stepped down, Wisch said a few words of his own for Hornbuckle, church members, the victims and family members on both sides:

"It's time to go on with the rest of your lives," he said. "Close this book. Let it go and move on with your lives. Let this trial end here."

What's ahead

The Rev. Terry Hornbuckle is headed to prison, but six other criminal cases are pending against him. They include three charges of sexual assault involving two other women, a methamphetamine possession charge, a charge of retaliation and a charge of tampering with a witness. The Tarrant County district attorney's office will review the cases to determine whether to prosecute them in light of Tuesday's verdicts, prosecutor Sean Colston said. Also, several lawsuits have been filed against Hornbuckle.


Monday, August 28, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor found to have lied on résumé

WEST PALM BEACH — Newly appointed Pastor Steven Flockhart abruptly abandoned the pulpit at First Baptist Church West Palm Beach late Friday after The Palm Beach Post questioned the fabricated education credentials he used to land the post.

Flockhart, 40, submitted a one-line resignation to church leaders, said the Rev. Kevin Mahoney, executive pastor of the venerable church along the Intracoastal Waterway. It was effective immediately.

A closer look: Steven Flockhart's résumé

"He admitted he lied. He has apologized for that and he's asked for forgiveness," Mahoney said.

A top Baptist minister, the Rev. John Sullivan, president of the Florida Baptist Convention, was traveling from Jacksonville to lead today's services at the church. Flockhart was not expected to attend, Mahoney said, but told church leaders he would write an apology letter to be read to the congregation.

If a written apology isn't received, Ben Bassett, chairman of the church's personnel committee, will read a statement announcing Flockhart's resignation, Mahoney said.

Although church leaders had welcomed Flockhart with much fanfare last month, Mahoney said, it was clear he couldn't continue to lead the church.

"His integrity was compromised, and, frankly, integrity is paramount for the character of a pastor," Mahoney said.

Flockhart declined comment, referring questions to Mahoney.

The résumé Flockhart provided to the church made it appear he held bachelor's and master's degrees from two respected institutions. But a background check by The Post found he actually obtained bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees through correspondence courses offered by a Georgia theological school that isn't accredited by a recognized agency.

Flockhart's résumé also said he is "currently obtaining a second master's from Southeastern Theological Seminary." But officials there said he never obtained a master's degree from the school in Wake Forest, N.C., and is not now enrolled.

Jay Todd, an assistant registrar at the 56-year-old school, said Flockhart did take two online classes in the spring as a non-degree-seeking student.

"Your facts are correct," Mahoney said when asked about Flockhart's resumé. "There is absolutely a problem with the résumé."

The discovery of Flockhart's phony credentials followed an Aug. 13 report in The Post that he had run up large debts while leading a church in Georgia eight years ago, leaving it in near financial ruin.

Mahoney said First Baptist began its own investigation of Flockhart's educational background even before The Post contacted it. Flockhart, Mahoney said, told him he had a bachelor's degree from Columbia International University, an accredited institution in Columbia, S.C. School officials said he attended to two years but never obtained a degree.

"He admitted he lied," the executive pastor repeated.

'Significant endorsement' impressed church

Mahoney downplayed the significance of the résumé, describing it as just a brief biography that Flockhart had provided the search committee through his mentor, the Rev. Johnny Hunt.

The endorsement from Hunt, the pastor of a 14,000-member church in Woodstock, Ga., was a key reason Flockhart was tapped to lead First Baptist after a three-year search, Mahoney said. Southern Baptist's fundamentalist wing reveres Hunt, who was expected to be elected the convention's president this year before he unexpectedly withdrew from consideration.

"That is a significant endorsement because Johnny Hunt is a leading pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention," Mahoney said. "He's respected in both religious and secular circles."

The only part of Flockhart's résumé that checked out was his assertion that he had been accepted at Liberty Theological Seminary "to begin working on a second doctorate."

Officials there initially told The Post he was not enrolled. Later, they said they discovered he paid his registration fees directly to seminary President Ergun Caner.

"The pastor is enrolled and has paid in advance," said Ron Godwin, executive vice president and CEO of Liberty University. "I love those kind of students."

He said Flockhart did not turn up in university records because Caner apparently recruited him. A Turkish-born Muslim, Caner converted to evangelical Christianity, then set off a firestorm in 2002 by describing the prophet Mohammed as a pedophile possessed by demons.

"Dr. Caner has a wide outreach to church leaders all over the United States and, as president of the seminary, enrolls a number of pastors individually," Godwin said.

Besides, Godwin said of Flockhart: "He's a good friend of our chancellor, Dr. Jerry Falwell."

Better known as the founder of the once politically powerful Moral Majority, Falwell also helped found the university in Lynchburg, Va.

Poor quality of résumé a shock

Shortly after Flockhart's appointment in West Palm Beach, The Palm Beach Post reported his financial troubles at a church near Dalton, Ga. Macedonia Baptist Church in Dawnville sued to force him to repay a debt that had ballooned to $162,799. The lawsuit was filed after he left in 1989 to head up Crosspointe Baptist Church outside Memphis, Tenn. It alleged that he used church credit cards for his personal use and wrote checks to himself without permission from church leaders.

He repaid the debt last year, church leaders said.

While in Dawnville, he was slapped with a $36,150 judgment by American Express Travel-Related Services Co. and a $8,617 lien from the Internal Revenue Service. He ultimately paid both.

When asked through Mahoney about the judgments, he initially denied they existed. When shown Georgia court papers, Mahoney reported that Flockhart then recalled the financial problems and said they had been taken care of.

Mahoney, who served as executive pastor of First Baptist during the three-year search, said he was not a member of the pastor search committee and did not know why the panel did not more fully investigate Flockhart's background.

David Gille, chairman of the pastor search committee, has said members were taken by Flockhart's skills as a preacher and his ability to draw people to the church. During the eight years he spent at Crosspointe, membership grew from about 300 to 2,300, Flockhart said in media interviews.

"The main reason the pastor was chosen was his outstanding evangelical skills," Gille said last month. "We felt at this stage in our church's life, that's what we need."

Others who reviewed Flockhart's résumé at The Post's request said they were appalled by its lack of substance and specificity.

"I've never seen as poor a quality of résumé for a pastor of a significant church as this résumé," said Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics in Nashville, Tenn.

Titled Salvation/Calling, the résumé takes up less than one page. At the top, Flockhart described his conversion at a 1985 revival and how he became a pastor, emphasizing his close friendship with Johnny Hunt.

Flockhart's résumé doesn't mention any of the churches where he served. He lists the names of three schools he attended but doesn't include any dates or specific degrees he obtained.

Under the list of three schools, he wrote "Bachelor's Degree, Masters and Doctorate of Ministry," without specifying which degree came from which school.

Mahoney said he assumed that, because both the schools and degrees were listed in order, that Flockhart had gotten a bachelor's degree from Columbia International University, an accredited university in Columbia, S.C., and a master's from Southeastern Seminary, which is also accredited.

Parham, who is head of the 15-year-old organization that provides ethical information and resources to Baptist congregations, said he interpreted the résumé the same way. He voiced surprise when told that Columbia and Southeastern reported Flockhart did not hold degrees from those institutions.

"It advances the perception that he is a graduate of those schools," he said of Flockhart's résumé. "That is intentionally misleading a congregation."

Covington Theological School in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., was the only one on Flockhart's resumé to confirm he received a degree.

"Covington Theological School: That's a red flag," Parham said.

It touts its accreditation from an agency that is not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and is an outgrowth of a now-defunct company that was once charged with fraud.

"This is one of those schools I wouldn't recommend anyone go to," said Rick Walston, author of Walston's Guide to Christian Distance Learning: Earning Degrees Non-Traditionally.

Covington's Web site says it is accredited by Accrediting Commission International. Once known as the International Accrediting Commission, it changed its name and moved to Beebee, Ark., after it was charged with fraud and barred from doing business in Missouri, according to an article by John Bear, who has collaborated with Walston and has served as an expert witness on diploma mills and fake degrees.

The school's downfall proved to be a sting operation in which it accredited a school set up by a Missouri assistant attorney general. To make his fake school as outrageous as possible, the state lawyer listed the Three Stooges and other TV characters as faculty members. The school motto, when translated from Latin, was: "Education is only for the birds."

When the head of the International Accrediting Commission agreed to accredit the school, he was charged with fraud.

Lack of résumé's review criticized

Ray Warren, records director at Covington, remembered that Flockhart first registered for the school's correspondence course in 1999 and then took some time off. Records show Flockhart got his bachelor's in ministry in 2003, his master's of ministry in 2004 and his doctorate of ministry in 2005, Warren said.

That means Flockhart didn't have a college degree when he was pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church in Georgia, or until five years after he arrived in Millington, Tenn., where he persuaded the congregation to build an $11 million sanctuary.

In sermons, he has told members of First Baptist Church West Palm Beach that he never graduated from high school and instead got a GED. He has said that he has an "earned doctorate," emphasizing that his journey from school dropout to the top of academia shows what the Lord can do once people accept him into their lives.

Flockhart didn't need a degree to become pastor of any Southern Baptist church, said John Revell, an associate in convention relations at the Southern Baptist Convention.

"If I was going to wager a guess, most pastors have formal theological training," he said. However, he said, it is up to local churches to decide whether to require it of the pastors they choose to lead them.

Flockhart said he was "licensed to preach" in 1986 by Rev. Hunt and ordained by Hunt in 1990.

Hunt appeared via videotape at Flockhart's first service at First Baptist last month and gave a ringing endorsement of his protégé. Like Flockhart, he also lists a degree from Covington on his résumé. It says he holds an honorary doctorate from the school.

Parham said Flockhart's résumé should have been examined more closely.

"If Southern Baptist laity ever take Jesus seriously, they will protect themselves from false shepherds," Parham said. "Jesus told his followers in Matthew 10:16, be wise as serpents. That means Baptist laity and leaders have to practice discernment."

Mahoney described Flockhart as "remorseful" in meetings with church leaders.

"I think it's tragic," he said of the events that led to Flockhart's resignation. "But I believe it's in the best interests of our church."

He said he didn't know what Flockhart's future holds. But he said he wishes him the best.

"Steven Flockhart is one of the most gifted communicators of the gospel that I have ever heard," Mahoney said. "Do I think Steven Flockhart will again have an opportunity to preach the gospel? Yes. Do I think it will be at First Baptist? No."


Friday, August 25, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor arrested for not reporting alleged abuse of child

The pastor of a church on the northeast side (Houston Texas) was arrested late Wednesday afternoon. It came after a police investigation that lasted more than a month and a half.

Houston police say Pastor Robert Holmes knew about the abuse a 12-year-old boy was suffering, but did not report it to authorities. That boy is now living with other relatives. He sustained bruises, cuts and multiple broken bones, authorities say, at the hands of his father and stepmother.

According to police, the pastor thought counseling was enough to help the boy's family. The pastor maintains his innocence.

Holmes said, "I'm a pastor. I take care of this community. Criminals are killing folks, and (police) would do a man of God like this... That's sad. I didn't do anything!"

State law explicitly states:
The requirement to report under this section applies without exception to an individual whose personal communications may otherwise be privileged, including an attorney, a member of the clergy, a medical practitioner...or others.

The pastor is charged with injury to a child by omission. The boy's father and stepmother are charged with injury to a child.



A local pastor charged with failing to report child abuse has hired a high-profile attorney to defend him.

Robert Holmes of the Faith House of Prayer showed up in court Friday with attorney George Parnham.

Holmes is accused of not reporting to police the abuse of a 12-year-old boy at the hands of his father and stepmother.

"We'll be presenting some information to the grand jury, and I feel confident the grand jury will do the right thing," Parnham said. "This is information the prosecutor is probably unaware of."

Holmes didn't go before the judge Friday, and his hearing was reset


Pastor charged with sex assault

An Orangeville, Ont., pastor has been charged by the Toronto police sex crimes unit in relation to sexual assaults of a woman between 1997 and 2005.

Police allege at the time of the offences, the suspect was a United Church minister at the Manor Road United Church in Toronto and Mono Mills United Church in Orangeville.

Police allege while serving in his capacity as a minister and counsellor, he sexually assaulted a woman, now 52, and police believe there may be other victims.

William Brian Major has been charged with three counts of sexual assault.

Major is currently a pastor at Mono Mills United Church in Orangeville.

He is scheduled to appear in Toronto court on Oct. 3.


Sunday, August 20, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Man cooks up the Virgin Mary on the grill

George Forman grill cooks up the Virgin Mary
Some have seen her in toast, in trees, even potato chips. Now one Glendale man says the Virgin Mary is in his refrigerator.

Last week, John Milonas was grilling a hamburger on his George Foreman Grill. When he went to clean the drip pan, something caught his eye.

He says it looks like the leftover grease created an image of the Virgin Mary. Milonas says he didn't know what to think, so he started showing his friends.

"They're all skeptical when I tell them the story and then when I show them the picture, they get that 'ah-ha' look on their face and it's just amazing that the whole image of her is there, the baby Jesus and the figure behind, people just stare and say that is the Virgin Mary, an image of the Virgin Mary," said Milonas.

Milonas called the makers of the George Foreman Grill to tell them about what's in his drip pan. He says he hasn't heard back from the company.

Milonas hasn't decided what to do with the image, so for now he's keeping it in the fridge.


Thursday, August 17, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor, wife and deacons: child molestors

PINEVILLE MO - Sexual abuse charges spanning four decades were filed Tuesday against a McDonald County pastor, his wife, and two church deacons.

The charges were filed by Steve Geeding, McDonald County prosecutor, and Daniel Bagley, the county's assistant prosecutor.

Raymond Lambert, 51, pastor of the Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church, located in Washburn, has been charged with one count of first degree child molestation, four counts of second degree child molestation and three counts of statutory sodomy in the second degree for events which happened between Feb. 15, 1995, and April 4, 2004.

Lambert's wife, Patty Lambert, 49, faces a count of second degree child molestation and a count of first degree endangerment of a child in a ritual or ceremony which took place on April 3, 2004.

Tom Epling, 51, was charged with five counts of first degree statutory sodomy for events happening between July 16, 1977, and July 15, 1982.

And Paul Epling, 53, faces two counts of first degree statutory rape and five counts of first degree statutory sodomy for events which happened between Nov. 7, 1978, and July 15, 1983.

Warrants for the arrests of the individuals were issued Tuesday as well, the prosecutor said in a prepared statement. However, McDonald County Sheriff Don Schlessman reported his office had not received the warrants as of late Tuesday afternoon, nor had any arrests been made as of Tuesday night.

Geeding was not available for additional comment Tuesday evening.

Schlessman said Deputy Mike LeSueur, an investigator with the McDonald County Sheriff's Department, had more information on the case.

In a telephone interview Tuesday night, LeSueur said several former members of the church had come forward in the last six months, claiming they had been molested for several years. They alleged the abuse started when they were children and continued into adulthood, he said. One victim said the abuse started at the age of 4. LeSueur said incest was involved.

“My understanding is this is the third generation of pastors who have participated in this kind of abuse,” LeSueur said in a telephone interview Tuesday night. “One of the victims said to me, ‘Why would a man plant a fruit tree and then not sample the first offering of fruit from that tree.' ”

Charges against Raymond Lambert allege the incidents took place on May 31, 1995; July 4, 2000; March 5, 2001; April 3, 2002; and April 3, 2004. Charges against Mrs. Lambert say the incidents she was allegedly involved in took place on April 3, 2004.

In charges against Paul Epling filed Tuesday, the prosecutors listed the dates of occurrences as Nov. 7, 1978, and on July 15 of 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982 and 1983.

And on charges alleged against Tom Epling, the incidents allegedly took place on July 15 of 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981 and 1982.

The church and more than two dozen surrounding homes has been described as a “compound” by long-time McDonald County residents, as well as church members, LeSueur said. The Lamberts reside at 589 Cecil Epling Lane, while Tom Epling lives at 584 Cecil Epling Way and his brother, Paul Epling, resides at 362 Cecil Epling Way.

Court dates for the four have not been set as of late Tuesday evening. However, McDonald County Associate Circuit Court Judge John LePage has been assigned the case.

If convicted, Raymond Lambert could face 10 to 30 years or life in prison for the first degree child molestation charge; up to seven years in prison for the second degree statutory sodomy count; and up to five years on each of the second degree child molestation charges.

Patty Lambert faces five to 15 years in prison on the child endangerment charge and up to five years on the second degree child molestation count.

As the charges against Eplings are unclassified felony counts, their sentences are up to a judge or jury to decide.




Pastor, deacons to surrender

PINEVILLE - A McDonald County church pastor, his wife and two deacons accused of child sexual abuse are expected to turn themselves in to authorities Monday afternoon.

Gregg Sweeten, chief deputy with the McDonald County Sheriff's Department, said Wednesday an agreement had been reached with the group's attorney, Robert Evenson, that Raymond Lambert, pastor of the Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church, his wife and two deacons would turn themselves over to the sheriff's department sometime Monday afternoon.

Lambert, 51, his wife, Patty, 49, and deacons Tom Epling, 51, and Paul Epling, 53, are accused of child abuse charges stemming from incidents which allegedly occurred between 1977 and 2004.

Raymond Lambert faces a Class A felony count of first degree child molestation, four Class D felony counts of second degree child molestation, and a Class C felony charge of second degree statutory sodomy.

His wife faces a Class B felony charge of endangering the welfare of a child in a ritual or ceremony and a Class D felony count of second degree child molestation.

Tom Epling has been charged with five unclassified felony counts of first degree statutory sodomy and Paul Epling faces two unclassified felony charges of first degree statutory rape and five unclassified felony counts of first degree statutory sodomy.

In a probable cause statement, Deputy Mike Le Sueur, an investigator with the McDonald County Sheriff's Department, said Raymond Lambert, fondled a 12-year-old girl in 1987. As time progressed, the deputy said in his report, the girl was required to perform oral sex on Raymond Lambert. The incidents happened repeatedly until 2005, when the girl left the church compound.

Le Sueur said in a probable cause statement that Patty Lambert, compelled a 16-year-old church member to strip, whereupon she was allegedly fondled by Raymond Lambert while Patty Lambert was naked in the bed with them. The deputy added that in permitting the contact between the pastor and the young church member, Patty Lambert endangered the welfare of the teenager.

Le Sueur said in a probable cause statement that Tom Epling fondled a church member between 1976 and 1978, beginning when the child was only four years old.

And according to a probable cause statement, Paul Epling reportedly fondled the same child during 1977 and 1978, telling her “he was preparing her body for service to God.” When the girl was 10, the statement concluded, Paul Epling allegedly attempted sexual intercourse with her, stopping “only after she protested due to pain.”

In a telephone interview Tuesday night, Le Sueur said several former church members had come forward in the past six months, claiming they had been molested for several years. The deputy said incest was involved, adding he understood that this was the third generation of church officials who participated in child sexual abuse.

Bond has been set at $50,000 each for Raymond Lambert, Paul Epling and Tom Epling. Patty Lambert's bond was set at $30,000, according to court documents.

Court dates for the four have not been set as of mid-Thursday morning.

Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church sits on a large tract of land near Powell, surrounded by more than two dozen homes of church members. The area has been described as a “compound” by both church members and long-time McDonald County residents.


United Church considers boycott of bottled water

The United Church of Canada may ask its members to stop buying bottled water.

The request is part of a resolution against the privatization of water supplies that has been put before delegates at the church's general council this week in Thunder Bay.

Richard Chambers, the social policy co-ordinator with the national office of the church, said that water is a human right, and no one should profit from it.

"We're against the commodification, the privatization is another way to say it, of water anyway, anywhere," he told CBC News.

"And bottled water that we see being sold in Canada is just an example of that. The thin edge of the wedge of the privatization of water."

Chambers said congregations would be asked "to put their energies and their resources into making sure there is safe public access to water locally."

Ironically, the church's delegates are drinking bottled water this week at its meeting at Lakehead University. The conference facility was not equipped to provide drinking water.

Chambers said the church had asked for tap water at all functions, but a mix-up occurred.

Delegates are scheduled to vote on the private water resolution on Thursday.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Christian-Related Fraud

Randall W. Harding sang in the choir at Crossroads Christian Church in Corona, Calif., and donated part of his conspicuous wealth to its ministries. In his business dealings, he underscored his faith by naming his investment firm JTL, or "Just the Lord." Pastors and churchgoers alike entrusted their money to him.

By the time Harding was unmasked as a fraud, he and his partners had stolen more than $50 million from their clients, and Crossroads became yet another cautionary tale in what investigators say is a worsening problem plaguing the nation's churches.

Billions of dollars has been stolen in Christian religion-related fraud in recent years, according to the North American Securities Administrators Association, a group of state officials who work to protect investors.

Between 1984 and 1989, about $450 million was stolen in Christian-related scams, the association says. In its latest count - from 1998 to 2001 - the toll had risen to $2 billion. Rip-offs have only become more common since.

"The size and the scope of the fraud is getting larger," said Patricia Struck, president of the securities association and administrator of the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, Division of Securities. "The scammers are getting smarter and the investors don't ask enough questions because of the feeling that they can be safe in church."

Cases in recent years show just how vulnerable religious communities are.

Lambert Vander Tuig, a member of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest Calif., ran a real estate scam that bilked investors out of $50 million, the Securities and Exchange Commission says. His salesmen presented themselves as faithful Christians and distributed copies of "The Purpose Driven Life," by Saddleback pastor Rick Warren, according to the SEC. Warren and his church had no knowledge of Vander Tuig's activities, says the SEC.

At Daystar Assembly of God Church in Prattville, Ala., a congregant persuaded church leaders and others to invest about $3 million in real estate a few years ago, promising some profits would go toward building a megachurch. The Daystar Assembly was swindled and lost its building.

And in a dramatically broader scam, leaders of Greater Ministries International, based in Tampa, Fla., defrauded thousands of people of half a billion dollars by promising to double money on investments that ministry officials said were blessed by God. Several of the con men were sentenced in 2001 to more than a decade each in prison.

"Many of these frauds are, on their face, very credible and legitimate appearing," said Randall Lee, director of the Pacific regional office of the SEC. "You really have to dig below the surface to understand what's going on."

Typically, a con artist will target the pastor first, by making a generous donation and appealing to the minister's desire to expand the church or its programs, according to Joseph Borg, director of the Alabama Securities Commission, who played a key role in breaking up the Greater Ministries scam.

If the pastor invests, churchgoers view it as a tacit endorsement. The con man, often promising double digit returns, will chip away at resistance among church members by suggesting they can donate part of their earnings to the congregation, Borg says.

"Most folks think `I'm going to invest in some overseas deal or real estate deal and part of that money is going to the church and I get part. I don't feel like I'm guilty of greed,'" Borg says.

If a skeptical church member openly questions a deal, that person is often castigated for speaking against a fellow Christian.

Ole Anthony of the Trinity Foundation Inc. in Dallas, which investigates fraud and televangelism, partly blames the churches themselves for the problem. Anthony contends that the "prosperity gospel" - which teaches that the truly faithful are rewarded with wealth in this life - is creeping into mainstream churches.

Chuck Crites, a former member of Crossroads Church, learned firsthand how effective con artists can be.

The businessman was swindled out of $500,000 by Harding in a Ponzi scheme, which uses money from newer investors to pay off older ones.

Crites said Harding, who pleaded guilty last year to wire fraud and money laundering, boasted about helping fund a new Christian high school for Crossroads and hired a music pastor from the megachurch as a sales agent. "At one point he even told me how much money he had given to the church that year," Crites said.

Harding was nabbed with the help of Barry Minkow, who was himself convicted of fraud years ago. Minkow eventually became a pastor in San Diego and started the Fraud Discovery Institute, which is dedicated to investigating scams.

Crites is putting his money toward a new fraud-awareness kit for churches and other groups that Minkow is developing.

"It made me angry at how people are abusing the trust that exists in church communities," Crites said.

Investigators say all denominations are at risk, but the most susceptible communities are ones where members are deeply engaged in church activities, such as service programs and small group prayer, giving con artists plenty of chance to ingratiate themselves with congregants.

Often, perpetrators are so successful building an image as good Christians that churchgoers won't cooperate with law enforcement authorities even after the crime is revealed.

"Money has a way of blinding objectivity, even for we who are believers," Minkow says.


Friday, August 11, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Minister accused of buying child porn

A Newark, Ohio, minister and his wife were jailed yesterday on charges of possessing child pornography.

David H. Waser ordered 11 sexually explicit videotapes involving juveniles, some as young as 4, from an undercover postal inspector in Missouri, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court.

Waser, 57, and his wife, Judy, 54, are scheduled to appear in federal court today in Columbus to decide whether they will be held in jail pending trial. They were in the Franklin County jail last night.

Waser has been removed as minister of Newark's Second Church of Christ at 19 S. Williams St., his son confirmed yesterday from the family home at 617 W. Main St. in Newark. The son was too upset to say any more.

Postal inspectors tracking the order said they searched the Wasers' home on July 19 after the package of 11 tapes was delivered.

They found the package open and one tape in the couple's videotape player. That tape was described as involving two 10-year-old boys and two 11-year-old girls.

Waser told inspectors that he'd discussed ordering the videotapes with his wife, the complaint says. He said she was aware they contained minors engaged in sex, but not aware of the number of videos he ordered.

During their search, inspectors said, they seized four computers from the home, a video camera and several hundred videos on CD, DVD and tape.

Waser ordered the 11 tapes in June from an Internet site offering hard-core child pornography and sent a $130 money order to pay for them, the complaint says.

The undercover inspector sent a letter to Mr. Waser on July 12 saying Waser needed to e-mail him "code words" to ensure neither one of them was being set up.

"A number of individuals do not agree or understand the material,'' the inspector wrote.

The inspector said Waser responded with the code words, telling the seller he was glad he was being cautious. Waser also wrote, "I have never ordered anything like this and my wife and I are excited,'' the complaint says.

Records kept by the Ohio secretary of state's office say Mr. Waser was licensed as a minister in 1983 at the Church of Christ in Hubbard in northeastern Ohio. He became minister at the Newark church in 2001.


A postal inspector says the 57-year-old minister admitted in interviews that he touched several children inappropriately during the past 37 years. He says an undercover inspector sold the couple ten videotapes containing child porn. Some involved children as young as four.

The postal official says the pastor admitted exposing himself to children at church camp and pretending it was an accident.


Tuesday, August 08, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor accused of rape, assault, drugs, and child porn

A TEENAGER from Summerstrand broke down in tears as she was asked to identify herself and other women in an album of hard-core pornography handed in as evidence in a string of charges ranging from rape, indecent assault, drug abuse and the making of child pornography against a well-known Summerstrand church pastor, who is her stepfather.

The teenager, who may not be named, testified in the High Court against the man who became her adoptive stepfather after she was taken from her parents at the age of six because of their substance abuse.

The dark-haired girl – dressed in jeans, a white top and black jacket – was calm throughout her testimony for the State, until she was asked to identify the girls in pictures printed from a data CD allegedly made by the pastor. The evidence remained sealed by the prosecuting team until the court hearing started yesterday morning to protect the girls in the pictures.

The 54-year-old pastor, who remains in custody, faces several charges of raping his adopted child during the period 2003 to 2005 while she was between the ages of 15 and 17. He is also accused of indecent assault involving sodomy and the use of sex toys on the teenager.

In addition, he has been charged with crimen injuria for spying on the teenager and his own daughter while they were naked by installing secret video cameras in their bathroom.

He was arrested on May 18 last year after the girl reported the abuse to her boyfriend who then reported it to the police. Police found several vibrators, pornographic videos, a disc containing pornographic material, condoms and drugs in his house.

The pastor, who pleaded not guilty, also faces charges for the possession and creation of child pornography and the possession and use of drugs such as cocaine, dagga and Ecstacy.

Earlier yesterday the girl testified how the pastor started to caress her in 2002 and, during a stay in a guest house in Graaff-Reinet, allowed her to drink and smoke. When she became intoxicated, he had sexual intercourse with her.

This continued happening until 2005 when he introduced her to drugs on a regular basis. They also watched pornography together before and while having intercourse.

She said he took explicit photographs of her which he published on the internet and made video recordings of her dancing naked.

She said she now realised that he took control of her and in the process took away her childhood. He also turned her family, including her mother, against her. All that was left now, was hurt, she said.

The gray-haired churchman – dressed in a gray jersey and a black leather jacket – sat motionless in the dock while the teenager testified how he needed to inject himself with drugs to get an erection.

She said he encouraged her to take Ecstacy when she refused to allow him to have his way with her.

The court adjourned shortly after the girl broke down in tears. She will be cross-examined when the trial resumes this morning.

link | link

Pastor pleads guilty

FLINT MICH - The pastor of Foss Avenue Baptist Church pleaded guilty to several charges Monday and faces a Sept. 18 sentencing before Genesee Circuit Judge Judith A. Fullerton.

The Rev. Derrick A. Aldridge, 51, of Flint pleaded guilty to improper possession of a firearm in a motor vehicle, a 90-day misdemeanor, and possession of cocaine, a 4-year felony.

Attorney Michael P. Manley, who represents Aldridge, said he will wait until sentencing to see if his client is eligible for a designation that would allow the conviction to be erased if Aldridge successfully completes the sentence requirements.

Assistant Lapeer County Prosecutor Steven G. Beatty earlier said his office would oppose that type of sentencing request.

The case is being handled by the Lapeer County prosecutor's office at the request of Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton, who represented Aldridge in a 1995 embezzlement case, to avoid any appearance of impropriety.

Aldridge was arrested Jan. 13 at Flushing Road near Ballenger Highway in Flint after police found him sitting in his car with a briefcase containing about 15 grams of cocaine and a .38-caliber revolver.

Manley said Aldridge is now at a halfway house but is still involved in a substance abuse treatment program in Mississippi.

The voting board at Foss Avenue has not yet decided whether to keep Aldridge as pastor.


Saturday, August 05, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Disowning Conservative Politics, Evangelical Pastor Rattles Flock

MAPLEWOOD, Minn. — Like most pastors who lead thriving evangelical megachurches, the Rev. Gregory A. Boyd was asked frequently to give his blessing — and the church’s — to conservative political candidates and causes.

The requests came from church members and visitors alike: Would he please announce a rally against gay marriage during services? Would he introduce a politician from the pulpit? Could members set up a table in the lobby promoting their anti-abortion work? Would the church distribute “voters’ guides” that all but endorsed Republican candidates? And with the country at war, please couldn’t the church hang an American flag in the sanctuary?

After refusing each time, Mr. Boyd finally became fed up, he said. Before the last presidential election, he preached six sermons called “The Cross and the Sword” in which he said the church should steer clear of politics, give up moralizing on sexual issues, stop claiming the United States as a “Christian nation” and stop glorifying American military campaigns.

“When the church wins the culture wars, it inevitably loses,” Mr. Boyd preached. “When it conquers the world, it becomes the world. When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross.”

Mr. Boyd says he is no liberal. He is opposed to abortion and thinks homosexuality is not God’s ideal. The response from his congregation at Woodland Hills Church here in suburban St. Paul — packed mostly with politically and theologically conservative, middle-class evangelicals — was passionate. Some members walked out of a sermon and never returned. By the time the dust had settled, Woodland Hills, which Mr. Boyd founded in 1992, had lost about 1,000 of its 5,000 members.

But there were also congregants who thanked Mr. Boyd, telling him they were moved to tears to hear him voice concerns they had been too afraid to share.

“Most of my friends are believers,” said Shannon Staiger, a psychotherapist and church member, “and they think if you’re a believer, you’ll vote for Bush. And it’s scary to go against that.”

Sermons like Mr. Boyd’s are hardly typical in today’s evangelical churches. But the upheaval at Woodland Hills is an example of the internal debates now going on in some evangelical colleges, magazines and churches. A common concern is that the Christian message is being compromised by the tendency to tie evangelical Christianity to the Republican Party and American nationalism, especially through the war in Iraq.

At least six books on this theme have been published recently, some by Christian publishing houses. Randall Balmer, a religion professor at Barnard College and an evangelical, has written “Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America — an Evangelical’s Lament.”

And Mr. Boyd has a new book out, “The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church,” which is based on his sermons.

“There is a lot of discontent brewing,” said Brian D. McLaren, the founding pastor at Cedar Ridge Community Church in Gaithersburg, Md., and a leader in the evangelical movement known as the “emerging church,” which is at the forefront of challenging the more politicized evangelical establishment.

“More and more people are saying this has gone too far — the dominance of the evangelical identity by the religious right,” Mr. McLaren said. “You cannot say the word ‘Jesus’ in 2006 without having an awful lot of baggage going along with it. You can’t say the word ‘Christian,’ and you certainly can’t say the word ‘evangelical’ without it now raising connotations and a certain cringe factor in people.

“Because people think, ‘Oh no, what is going to come next is homosexual bashing, or pro-war rhetoric, or complaining about ‘activist judges.’ ”

Mr. Boyd said he had cleared his sermons with the church’s board, but his words left some in his congregation stunned. Some said that he was disrespecting President Bush and the military, that he was soft on abortion or telling them not to vote.

“When we joined years ago, Greg was a conservative speaker,” said William Berggren, a lawyer who joined the church with his wife six years ago. “But we totally disagreed with him on this. You can’t be a Christian and ignore actions that you feel are wrong. A case in point is the abortion issue. If the church were awake when abortion was passed in the 70’s, it wouldn’t have happened. But the church was asleep.”

Mr. Boyd, 49, who preaches in blue jeans and rumpled plaid shirts, leads a church that occupies a squat block-long building that was once a home improvement chain store.

The church grew from 40 members in 12 years, based in no small part on Mr. Boyd’s draw as an electrifying preacher who stuck closely to Scripture. He has degrees from Yale Divinity School and Princeton Theological Seminary, and he taught theology at Bethel University in St. Paul, where he created a controversy a few years ago by questioning whether God fully knew the future. Some pastors in his own denomination, the Baptist General Conference, mounted an effort to evict Mr. Boyd from the denomination and his teaching post, but he won that battle.

He is known among evangelicals for a bestselling book, “Letters From a Skeptic,” based on correspondence with his father, a leftist union organizer and a lifelong agnostic — an exchange that eventually persuaded his father to embrace Christianity.

Mr. Boyd said he never intended his sermons to be taken as merely a critique of the Republican Party or the religious right. He refuses to share his party affiliation, or whether he has one, for that reason. He said there were Christians on both the left and the right who had turned politics and patriotism into “idolatry.”

He said he first became alarmed while visiting another megachurch’s worship service on a Fourth of July years ago. The service finished with the chorus singing “God Bless America” and a video of fighter jets flying over a hill silhouetted with crosses.

“I thought to myself, ‘What just happened? Fighter jets mixed up with the cross?’ ” he said in an interview.

Patriotic displays are still a mainstay in some evangelical churches. Across town from Mr. Boyd’s church, the sanctuary of North Heights Lutheran Church was draped in bunting on the Sunday before the Fourth of July this year for a “freedom celebration.” Military veterans and flag twirlers paraded into the sanctuary, an enormous American flag rose slowly behind the stage, and a Marine major who had served in Afghanistan preached that the military was spending “your hard-earned money” on good causes.

In his six sermons, Mr. Boyd laid out a broad argument that the role of Christians was not to seek “power over” others — by controlling governments, passing legislation or fighting wars. Christians should instead seek to have “power under” others — “winning people’s hearts” by sacrificing for those in need, as Jesus did, Mr. Boyd said.

“America wasn’t founded as a theocracy,” he said. “America was founded by people trying to escape theocracies. Never in history have we had a Christian theocracy where it wasn’t bloody and barbaric. That’s why our Constitution wisely put in a separation of church and state.

“I am sorry to tell you,” he continued, “that America is not the light of the world and the hope of the world. The light of the world and the hope of the world is Jesus Christ.”

Mr. Boyd lambasted the “hypocrisy and pettiness” of Christians who focus on “sexual issues” like homosexuality, abortion or Janet Jackson’s breast-revealing performance at the Super Bowl halftime show. He said Christians these days were constantly outraged about sex and perceived violations of their rights to display their faith in public.

“Those are the two buttons to push if you want to get Christians to act,” he said. “And those are the two buttons Jesus never pushed.”

Some Woodland Hills members said they applauded the sermons because they had resolved their conflicted feelings. David Churchill, a truck driver for U.P.S. and a Teamster for 26 years, said he had been “raised in a religious-right home” but was torn between the Republican expectations of faith and family and the Democratic expectations of his union.

When Mr. Boyd preached his sermons, “it was liberating to me,” Mr. Churchill said.

Mr. Boyd gave his sermons while his church was in the midst of a $7 million fund-raising campaign. But only $4 million came in, and 7 of the more than 50 staff members were laid off, he said.

Mary Van Sickle, the family pastor at Woodland Hills, said she lost 20 volunteers who had been the backbone of the church’s Sunday school.

“They said, ‘You’re not doing what the church is supposed to be doing, which is supporting the Republican way,’ ” she said. “It was some of my best volunteers.”

The Rev. Paul Eddy, a theology professor at Bethel University and the teaching pastor at Woodland Hills, said: “Greg is an anomaly in the megachurch world. He didn’t give a whit about church leadership, never read a book about church growth. His biggest fear is that people will think that all church is is a weekend carnival, with people liking the worship, the music, his speaking, and that’s it.”

In the end, those who left tended to be white, middle-class suburbanites, church staff members said. In their place, the church has added more members who live in the surrounding community — African-Americans, Hispanics and Hmong immigrants from Laos.

This suits Mr. Boyd. His vision for his church is an ethnically and economically diverse congregation that exemplifies Jesus’ teachings by its members’ actions. He, his wife and three other families from the church moved from the suburbs three years ago to a predominantly black neighborhood in St. Paul.

Mr. Boyd now says of the upheaval: “I don’t regret any aspect of it at all. It was a defining moment for us. We let go of something we were never called to be. We just didn’t know the price we were going to pay for doing it.”

His congregation of about 4,000 is still digesting his message. Mr. Boyd arranged a forum on a recent Wednesday night to allow members to sound off on his new book. The reception was warm, but many of the 56 questions submitted in writing were pointed: Isn’t abortion an evil that Christians should prevent? Are you saying Christians should not join the military? How can Christians possibly have “power under” Osama bin Laden? Didn’t the church play an enormously positive role in the civil rights movement?

One woman asked: “So why NOT us? If we contain the wisdom and grace and love and creativity of Jesus, why shouldn’t we be the ones involved in politics and setting laws?”

Mr. Boyd responded: “I don’t think there’s a particular angle we have on society that others lack. All good, decent people want good and order and justice. Just don’t slap the label ‘Christian’ on it.”


Church Leaders Settle Suit With Two Scam Victims

One of central Alabama's biggest church scandals is over tonight (Aug 2, 2006).

Lawyers for the DayStar Assembly of God have settled a lawsuit with two of its former members.

Don and Becky Whittington gave the church $50,000 to invest in an illegal securities scam that ensnared dozens of people.

The same scam eventually killed off the church and forced the bank to reposess its six million dollar sanctuary.

Becky Whittington is speaking out for the first time tonight.

"You don't grieve for something you don't love. Grief is the price you pay for when you do love something and it's been painful," she said.

You would think Whittington would call the settlement a victory. Instead, she's reflecting on the price she and her family paid.

"It's been totally frustrating and totally draining when you've been forced to endure something for such a long time," she said.

The Whittingtons were among the biggest buyers into the scam mastermind Steve Cooper unleashed on what was one of the fastest growing churches in Autauga County.

The church caught Cooper speaking on video in 2001.

"We're looking at a facility that will seat between 10 and 15 thousand people. It will have all the special effects and lighting we'd need. It'll have an Olympic sized swimming pool. Right on the top of it, five or six stories high, we're going to have a full time restaurant," he said.

Both Becky and her husband Don are preachers' kids. Their pastor never questioned their devotion to the church - even gave them plaques praising them.

"My husband was up there puttin' in thousands of hours building the church," said Whittington.

Which is why they handed over 50 thousand dollars so easily. Then, the scheme unraveled. They filed a lawsuit against other church leaders, including pastor Gary Dopson.

"They didn't do their homework and then basically caused injury to a whole lot of people," she said.

Then they began enduring all kinds of abuse.

We got death threat letters in the mail, saying that for us to get ready to meet our maker after we hired an attorney." she said.

Wednesday, a redemption of sorts. The church settled with the Whittingtons. But Becky says even now, she can't leave it behind.

"I hope this will be the healing and the closure I've needed because I've basically grieved myself sick," she tearfully said.The settlement agreement prohibits the Whittingtons from disclosing how much they settled the case for, but you can be sure it's far more than the $50,000 they invested.

Alabama court records show they already won $200,000 from real estate broker Elaine Turner - one of the leaders of the scam.

The Whittingtons have already collected about 60% of their initial $50,000 investment already from restitution the state ordered during the DayStar criminal case.

For the record, we asked pastor Gary Dopson's attorney for his side of the story today. He never returned our calls.


Churches Putting Town Out of Business

STAFFORD, Texas — They are not the words one expects to hear from a politician or a Southerner, and Leonard Scarcella is both: "Our city has an excessive number of churches."

Scarcella is mayor of this Houston-area community, which has 51 churches and other religious institutions packed into its 7 square miles.

With some 300 undeveloped, potentially revenue-producing acres left in Stafford, officials are scrambling to find a legal way to keep more tax-exempt churches from building here.

"With federal laws, you can't just say, 'We're not going to have any more churches,' " Scarcella said. "We respect the Constitution, but 51 of anything is too much."

Stafford, population 19,227, is the largest city in Texas without a property tax, and it depends on sales taxes and business fees for revenue. Nonprofits have been attracted by its rapid growth and minimal deed restrictions. "It's thrown everything out of balance, plus providing zero revenue. Somebody's got to pay for police, fire and schools," City Councilman Cecil Willis said.

In 2003, around the time the 45th church settled in, city leaders began looking for a way to slow the pace of construction. Public meetings were held; "we had people of different religions attending, people in their religious garb, Buddhists in their orange gowns and whatever else, talking about this very openly," Scarcella said.

An ordinance eventually passed that required those who wanted to build a church — and other public gathering places, such as bowling alleys and community halls — to undergo a rigorous review process and obtain City Council approval.

Before the ordinance, "you could pretty much come in here and say, 'I want to open up a church,' and I'd say, 'OK,' " said Gene Bane, the city's director of building permits.

In his office is a large map of Stafford that is dotted with round yellow stickers, each dot denoting a church or religious facility. In some parts of town, the dots are so close together they nearly meld into a big yellow glob.

In one quarter-mile section near the city center, parishioners can choose among 17 churches. There are three small churches in the Quail Ridge Plaza shopping center, and three large brick churches on the street behind it. Down the road, the Evangelical Formosan Church is tucked behind a muffler shop.

"If you can't find religion in Stafford, Texas, you ain't looking hard enough," Bane said.

There are no synagogues in Stafford, but there are religious facilities for Buddhists, Muslims, Chinese Baptists, Filipino Baptists, Spanish-speaking Baptists, and "every other variety of Christian you can imagine," Scarcella said.

"As best as we've been able to determine, the overwhelming majority of people who attend here don't even live in Stafford; they're coming from everywhere else," Willis said. Elsewhere includes Houston, about 15 miles northeast, and nearby Sugar Land.

"I don't hate God. I'm not against America and apple pie," Willis said. "We just have to protect what's left for commercial development."

Lawyers researching ways to stop church growth here will report back to city leaders in about six weeks, Scarcella said.

Lola Onita, assistant pastor at Jesus House Texas, said churches should be allowed to spread unfettered in a country that respects religious freedom. "People need a place to worship and hear the word of God," she said.

But Nilda Martinez, who owns a flower shop between two churches, has had enough. "The churches, they're everywhere here," she said. "There are too many; the city should control it. It hurts the city when you don't have enough businesses paying taxes."

Willis said he asked the last six applicants why they wanted to build a church in Stafford. "Every one of them said they prayed about it, and God said to come here," he said. "I can't compete with that, so here we are."


Wednesday, August 02, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor jailed over 'slave wages'

A church leader who illegally shipped South African workers to the Isle of Man and paid them "slave wages" has been jailed for three months.

Pieter Van Rooyen, 46, admitted breaking immigration laws by providing false documents to help five labourers get through immigration controls.

The pastor faked invites to a business course when they were actually renovating his luxury home.

He was jailed by High Bailiff Michael Moyle who also imposed £1,500 costs.

The workers were paid as little as £1.36 (2.38 USD) an hour - described in court as slave wages - and made to work up to 72 hours a week on his home at Lag Birrah Drive, Onchan.

Van Rooyen was the leader and founder of the Life Church in Douglas and a former offshore banking executive at Barclays.

He said he did not realise the workers were going to be paid so little and that he had budgeted with the builder to pay them a decent wage.

But Mr Moyle said the offences were committed out of greed.

Although he jailed Van Rooyen, the High Bailiff stopped short of deporting him.

A statement from the Island's Immigration Office said it was completely satisfied with the case's outcome.

"This case, which has been highly unusual for the Isle of Man, clearly demonstrates the need for vigilance and for the prompt and proper prosecution of anyone found to have committed such offences," it added.

"The Isle of Man Government will continue to pursue any breaches of immigration law with the utmost vigour, both to uphold the law and to prevent the exploitation of the vulnerable."

The building workers have all returned to South Africa.



Praise God, then get back to work
the trial of a self-styled prophet

GOD chose Pieter Van Rooyen to lead the broken, the depressed, the rejected and the confused and save their souls for Christ. Or so the balding 46-year-old South African, a former financial adviser at Barclays Bank, says.

But He is unlikely to approve of this self-appointed shepherd -- who puts himself on a par with Noah, Moses and Abraham -- importing illegal immigrants from his native country and putting them to work renovating his home on the Isle of Man, off the northwest coast of England, for pound stg. 1.36 ($3.39 AUD, $2.38 USD) an hour.

Van Rooyen and his Life Church, the evangelical ministry he founded in Douglas, the island's capital, face ruin after he appeared in a Manx court to admit charges of faking documents that allowed five South African workers to enter the country illegally.

He insisted that his intention was to coach them in spiritual matters but in reality, the court was told, they were set to work as cheap labour doing up his family home in Onchan.

The charismatic pastor is now facing a humiliating deportation. He has already resigned from his high-powered executive position advising wealthy private clients of Barclays about offshore banking opportunities.

Sarah Burton, his lawyer, admitted in court that Van Rooyen faced a difficult task explaining himself to the 800-strong congregation that meets each week to hear him preach and baptise children and lost souls.

"An example has been made of Van Rooyen, a business lecturer who holds degrees from a South African university," she said. "Having been a pillar of the community, he has fallen in the public eye."

Van Rooyen appeared in court alongside Jacobus Frederick Visser, 43, a fellow South African and an illegal immigrant. They each admitted facilitating a breach of the Immigration Act by providing travel, false documents, accommodation and subsistence for the men.

The pastor made contact with Visser, who owns a building firm in South Africa, last August. Visser gave Van Rooyen a price for the job of renovating the home the pastor shares with his wife, Sonja, and daughters Lezandri, 14, and Shandri, 12.

The court was told that Van Rooyen gave a bogus invitation which suggested that the men were to take part in a business coaching course. On the strength of the invitation, the men were allowed to enter the country in September.

Stuart Neale, for the prosecution, said Van Rooyen simply "wanted a cheap deal and provided the means to get the workers there". He said that Van Rooyen paid the workers "slave wages" by British standards. The men lived in the house for the three months they were working there and during that time Van Rooyen would not allow them out unaccompanied.

Simon Gomba, the highest-paid worker, was promised 12,000 rand ($2200 AUD, $1678 USD) a month, which he was to split with his cousin. As the work progressed, this was reduced to 10,000 rand, or about pound stg. 2 an hour. The men's hours were then extended by 15 hours to 72 hours a week, making their hourly wage only pound stg. 1.36 ($2.38 USD).

Concerned members of the public reported the workers' presence in January, prompting a raid by police and immigration officers.

Ms Burton said her client merely gave cash to Visser to pay the workers. She acknowledged he had invited them but said that he had not arranged for the men to enter the country. "It was his intention to coach them in spiritual and business matters."

At the hearing, High Bailiff Michael Moyle bailed Van Rooyen on a surety of pound stg. 5000 and told him he would be considered for deportation.

Visser was jailed for six months but the sentence was suspended for two years. Meanwhile, he will be excluded from the island for five years.

Van Rooyen was headhunted in May last year to advise Barclays clients seeking to invest offshore. With his wife he formed the Life Church. Mainstream religious leaders could only look on in envy as his weekly congregation swelled.

On the church's website, the pastor sets out his vision, putting himelf directly in the lineage of "Noah, Moses, Joseph, Abraham, Daniel, Joshua and Caleb".


Tuesday, August 01, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor's Wife Charged With Assault

Calls into the 911 Newport Arkansas Dispatch describe what happened with a pastor’s wife during church.

Dispatch: (Phone rings) "911 Emergency Services."

Caller: "I'm up here at the Pentecostal Church on Dill Street behind USA Drugs. There's a woman up here who’s got a gun."

Dispatch: "A gun...all right, we'll send an officer."

And with that, Newport police arrived at the Pentecostal Church of God for what was anything but your typical church service.

Church member Buddy Sherman explains, "We were all right here [pointing to the front pew]. Our pastor stood back there [pointing to the pulpit] and she was standing right here [pointing to the front of the pews]. She never intended any harm on nobody."

That's how Sherman describes Pastor Larry Estes' wife, 44-year-old Tammy Estes.

According to Sherman, Tammy stood up, with a .357 magnum in her hand and confronted her husband.

“She wanted the truth to get out, what she thought was the truth," he says.

Newport Police Chief Michael Scudder says, “It's one of the most powerful handguns in the world. Of course, it got our attention and we were hoping she wouldn't use it."

According to some witnesses, it wasn't a hostage situation at all.

While, 60 or so church members were making their way out, some stayed behind on their own will to comfort Tammy.

Sherman continues, “She never intended to use it. She told us she loved us and she just had some things she wanted heard."

The incident stems from several text messages on the pastor's cell phone received from one young female church member. During the entire time, church members say they weren't concerned for their safety.

Longtime church member Brenda Wilson says, “She used her [gun] last night as a security blanket for herself. She had it in her hand, she never held us up."

Now, Estes remains behind bars awaiting a mental evaluation. Church members say they stand behind the couple.

Wilson says, “They’re our pastor and we love them, both of them. And whatever problems they've got, we've all got our own problems too and they're no different than we are."

Tammy Estes has been charged with aggravated assault. Her bond is set at $2,500.