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Saturday, August 05, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

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.