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Wednesday, August 08, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor charged with insurance fraud and theft

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers today announced the conclusion of a months-long investigation into the financial dealings of the Rev. Acen Phillips.

Phillips has been charged with 12 felonies in Arapahoe County District Court; there are seven counts of theft and five counts of forgery related to insurance fraud. The counts list five people whose names allegedly were used by Phillips for fraudulent policies, but Suthers said there were others who said they were duped by the reverend. Phillips is accused of stealing or attempting to steal more than $575,000 between July 2005 and May 2006. He faces up to 81 years in prison and $5 million in fines.

State authorities had said they were looking into one life insurance policy that a woman had taken out through a group called American Church United, which listed Phillips as its chief executive officer. Officials said the life-insurance sales program operated by Phillips made his religious organizations beneficiaries when the faithful died. His life-insurance program offered people coverage for $70 a month through their churches. Upon death, 80 percent of the insurance payout would supposedly go to the deceased's family, 10 percent goes to their church and 10 percent go to Phillips' organization.

Officials said the life-insurance sales program operated by Phillips actually made his religious organizations the beneficiaries when the faithful died and policies were backdated to look authentic.

"In other cases, these were not members of the church," Suthers said. "Rev. Phillips dreamed them up after they died."

Phillips, 71, a popular Denver pastor, most recently ministered at New Birth Temple of Praise Community Baptist Church. But the doors of the church east of downtown Denver were locked Tuesday, and his name taken off the marquee.

"We lift him up in prayer, he and his family," said Bonita Brown, facilities director at Mount Gilead.