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Tuesday, November 24, 2009                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor jailed on church theft charges

A former pastor at the Live Oak Community Church in Oakley was jailed Monday on charges he supported a lavish lifestyle by incurring debt in the church's name, including a $111,000 mortgage loan obtained by falsifying documents.

Arcadio "Larry" Pineda, 65, was charged Friday with three felonies — grand theft and two counts of filing false documents. Investigators with the District Attorney's Office arrested him at his Oakley home Monday and booked him into Contra Costa County Jail in Martinez on $110,000 bail.

Pineda filed falsified documents with the secretary of state and the county recorder in 2008 to gain false authority to obtain the mortgage loan that used the church building as collateral, deputy district attorney Ken McCormick said.

Pineda spent all but $10,000 of the $110,000 loan to make payments on numerous credit cards taken out earlier in the church's name and used to pay for a trip to Israel, dinners, donations to political campaigns, his DirecTV bill and more, McCormick said.

Pineda is further accused of using offerings for the church for his personal use. Meanwhile, the church was paying Pineda a $42,000 annual salary.

"He was living off these credit cards to support a lifestyle beyond his means," McCormick said.

McCormick said statute of limitations stopped prosecutors from filing charges related to the credit cards.

The District Attorney's Office began investigating Pineda in the spring after reading in the Times about a lawsuit that church trustees had filed against him, his wife, Lucretia Amendola, and former church secretary Ruby Hattaway. Amendola and Hattaway were also investigated but were not charged.

The civil case has since been dismissed after Pineda and Hattaway filed for bankruptcy.

Church leaders will now focus on a suit filed against a lender, who has a lien on the church building, said attorney Jim Price, who represents the church.

Pineda's arrest could help prove the documents used to obtain the loan were false, and therefore invalid, Price said.

"The church gets their decision without paying any legal fees," he said.

Price said the money left unspent was taken and given back to the lender as payment for a year, with any remaining funds to be spent on the principal balance.

Church officials say they are pleased the arrest was made because they can avoid paying future legal fees to prove their case, but church trustee Robert Reeves wasn't completely happy with what took place. On Monday, he and other trustees were in prayer for Pineda, he said.

"We prayed today for mercy," Reeves said, "and that he would be able to learn from the experience."

Pineda had been pastor of the close-knit Christian church since 1999. The church, known by many as "the little white church on Highway 4," operates in a former 1900s schoolhouse on Live Oak Avenue and Main Street.

Pineda resigned from the church in March and faces possible prison time if convicted.

"I wish there was another way to work it out," Reeves said, "but we had to prove fraud and the embezzlement without spending a lot of money."