Black Collar Crime Mega-Round-Up, Commandment No. Seven* Edition: February 28, 2013

Charles Agbu • Mary Ann Aten • Caesar Belchez • Edward Belczak • Julius C. Blackwelder
Isaac Brooks • Romey Coles, Jr. • Archie Larue Evans • Peter Hesketh • Rose Hinson
Paul Haskell Lane / Katherine Hope Lane • Peter Nitschke • Demario Thomas
Sonya “Cheri” Tucker • Pam West • Paul Wolfe

Charles AgbuGuilty plea: Charles Agbu, 58, pastor, Pilgrim Congregational Church, Carson, California, “to conspiring with doctors, the operators of fraudulent medical clinics, street-level patient recruiters, and others to defraud Medicare of more than $11 million,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Copping to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and one count of money laundering, Agbu “faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine” at his scheduled sentencing on May 16, 2013. Co-conspirator Dr. Juan Tomas Van Putten is scheduled for sentencing March 28, 2012, while co-defendants Dr. Emmanuel Ayodele, Alejandro Maciel, Candalaria Estrada, and Charles Agbu’s daughter Obiageli Agbu are on trial as of this writing. Story: US DOJ, December 17, 2012

Mary Ann AtenSentenced: Mary Ann Aten, 56, former office manager, First Christian Church of Blair, Nebraska, to “one to two years in prison for felony theft and one year for the income tax charge” after pleading no contest to embezzling $47,657 from the church, according to the Omaha World-Herald. In exchange for the plea, charges of income tax evasion and filing a fraudulent state tax return were dropped.

Previously, the World-Herald noted that a police affidavit “says Aten’s husband informed the [First Christian Church] elders that his wife embezzled money from two businesses while they lived in West Virginia. John Kohl, a special prosecutor in the church case, said he has not determined whether Aten was charged or convicted on either occasion.”

A 2006 item in the West Virginia Record mentions a lawsuit filed against Aten, which claimed: “Mary Ann Aten, a former employee of [Scott Hutchison Enterprises, Inc.], allegedly failed to disclose that she had embezzled money from a Tennessee company before applying for a position with the plaintiffs. The suit claims she stole money from the two companies by writing checks for her own benefit and paying personal expenses with company funds. The plaintiffs are seeking $150,000 in compensatory damages.” Story: West Virginia Record, March 10, 2006; Omaha World-Herald, October 11, 2012; Omaha World-Herald, February 13, 2013

Caesar BelchezGuilty plea: Caesar A. Belchez, Roman Catholic priest; former pastor, St. Joseph the Worker Parish, Bonneauville, Pennsylvania; to 11-1/2 to 23 months in prison after pleading guilty to embezzling nearly $385,000 from the church, according to the Evening Sun, which reports: “According to court documents, prior to Belchez’s arrival the Bonneauville church had an annual operating deficit of approximately $16,000. During Belchez’s tenure, the church lost about $150,000 per year. The Diocese also discovered a Merrill Lynch account that had been established through a gift of stocks and equities donated to the parish, and $123,000 from that account had been transferred to Belchez’s personal bank account, court documents state.

“The Diocese then conducted a forensic audit, showing even more financial irregularities, such as $190,700 transferred from several church accounts to Belchez’s eTrade account and several other accounts. Belchez was also accused of taking about $98,000 from petty cash and a food drawer, as well as several other checks and withdrawals made from parish accounts.” Sentencing is scheduled for April 18, 2013. Story: Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, October 31, 2012; Evening Sun, October 31, 2012; ABC News, November 4, 2012; Evening Sun, February 25, 2013

Edward BelczakRemoved “temporarily”: Edward Belczak, 67, as pastor, St. Thomas More Parish, Troy, Michigan, “[f]ollowing the discovery of questionable financial transactions and practices during an Archdiocese of Detroit audit,” according to the Archdiocese, which issued a statement detailing allegations of “misappropriation and mismanagement” against the priest, including:

“Taking excess compensation beyond archdiocesan policies, estimating a loss of $92,000 to the parish over the past six years. Accepting and directing funds to himself that should have been posted to parish accounts, estimating a loss to the parish of $16,000 over the past six years. Compensating, with benefits, an individual best described as a ‘ghost employee,’ estimating a loss of $240,000 to the parish over the past six years.

“Maintaining improper medical/dental insurance coverage for an individual, estimating a loss of approximately $26,000 to the parish over the past six years. Authorizing a long-term disability policy for one employee, while not providing a similar benefit to other parish staff members, estimating a loss of $20,000 to the parish. Allowing for the operation of the St. Thomas More Travel Group as a parish-related activity, while none of the financial transactions, records or bank accounts were disclosed for financial reporting or official purposes.

“Accepting, but not depositing or recording in parish accounts, residual commission checks to the St. Thomas More Travel Group, estimating a loss of $25,000 to the parish over the past six years. Failing to record or deposit monies received through the Mother’s Day and Father’s Day special collections according to archdiocesan policies; failing to monitor currency in an amount over $10,000, found in an employee’s office desk.” Story: Archdiocese of Detroit, January 22, 2013

Guilty plea: Julius C. Blackwelder, 59, of North Dakota; former bishop, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Trumbull, Connecticut (Bridgeport ward); and involved with the Boy Scouts of America’s Connecticut Yankee Council, Inc.; “to one count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years, and one count of money laundering, which carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years,” reports SIGTARP (Office of the Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program).

“As bishop of his church, Blackwelder used his status within the community to dupe victims, including members of his congregation, into funding his Ponzi scheme,” said Christy Romero, Special Inspector General for TARP (SIGTARP). “Blackwelder promised gains for investors, and rather than even invest their money, he laundered it through an account used under false pretenses at TARP recipient Bank of America to pay down personal loans, pay off earlier investors, and pay to build a new home. Taxpayers did not bailout banks so others could launder proceeds of crimes through them. SIGTARP and our law enforcement partners will shut down money laundering through TARP banks.”

“This defendant abused his position of trust as a leader in his church to defraud fellow church members and others out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, much of which he used to construct a waterfront home,” stated U.S. Attorney Fein. Blackwelder “used investors’ money to pay his own expenses, which included repaying earlier investors in the scheme, building a waterfront home in Stratford, and repaying personal bank loans, including a line of credit from a Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) recipient bank. Through this scheme, Blackwelder defrauded investors of more than $400,000.” Sentencing is scheduled for May 15, 2013. Story: Conservative Babylon, March 27, 2012; SIGTARP, February 20, 2013

United StatesSentenced: Isaac H. Brooks, Jr., 59, pastor, Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, Jackson, Tennessee, and business owner, to more than four years in prison after pleading guilty to two (out of an original 29) counts of income tax evasion. Story: Conservative Babylon, June 3, 2012; AP, February 13, 2013

Romey ColesIndicted: Romey Coles, Jr., “prosperity gospel” preacher; founder and “bishop,” Church of the Lion of Judah, Cleveland, Ohio; founder, School of the Prophets and Judah Institute; and founder and executive director, Lion of Judah Academy charter school; “accused of illegally funneling $1.2 million of public funds to a business [Latter Enterprises] he formed to run” Lion of Judah Academy, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Also indicted along with Coles, accused of various roles involving alleged kickbacks to private businesses: Rosina Coles, Coles’ wife and co-pastor, school administrator, and Latter Enterprises officer; Carl Shye, Jr., the school’s former treasurer (who “was sentenced to two years in prison in October for stealing more than $470,000 in federal education funds from four [other] publicly funded but privately operated charter schools,” and whom the Ohio Auditor of State called “a serial abuser of public dollars and taxpayer trust”); Terrence Shelton, who formed Eclypse International “to set up the academy”; Chester Starks, Jr., the school’s assistant superintendent; Sheryse Henderson, the school’s business manager and Latter Enterprises officer; and school administrators Anthony Hendking and his wife Carlena Williams-Hendking.

Most damning is the indictment’s claim that: “From 2006 to 2011, the school took in almost $5.8 million from the state and federal government and $1.2 million of it was spent illegally. ‘Tens of thousands of dollars’ and items bought by the school went to the Church of the Lion of Judah.” Story: Ohio Auditor of State, November 23, 2010; Ohio Auditor of State, January 26, 2012; Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 31, 2012; Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 15, 2013. See also: Xcellence, November 4, 2012

Note: Although 1) the Church of the Lion of Judah is a Christian church, and 2) the Lion of Judah Academy FAQ assures parents that the school does not “teach religion,” it is worth noting that the “Lion of Judah” is one of several titles of honor given to deceased Haile Selassie, emperor of Ethiopa (1930-74), by adherents of Rastafarianism, who worship Selassie as the reincarnation of Jesus.

United StatesGuilty plea: Archie Larue Evans, 42, former pastor, Tilly Swamp Baptist Church, Conway, South Carolina, to mail fraud and conspiracy to structure transactions with a financial institution (i.e., a Ponzi scheme). according to the South Carolina U.S. Attorney’s Office, which reports that Evans, in addition to being a pastor and a farmer, “owned a limited liability corporation, Gold & Silver, LLC. Beginning in 2004, members of the congregation of the Tilley Swamp Baptist Church and others entered into investment contracts with Evans and Gold & Silver, LLC., which promised the investors much higher interest payments than the rate being paid by financial institutions.

“From January 2009 to October 2011, Evans hid the fact that he had lost or spent the money invested with him by paying investors what he claimed to be their earned interest payments using funds he received from new investors. The new investors’ money was used not only to pay quarterly interest payments to the prior investors but also to pay Evans’ personal expenses and to cover his trading losses. Evans caused losses to his investors in excess of $2,500,000.00.

“Evans also pled guilty to conspiracy to structure currency deposits with Anderson Brothers Bank and First Citizens Bank, both in Conway, from May 2010 until October 2011. The deposits were structured in order to avoid the bank’s reporting requirements so that Evans’ and others’ income would not be reported. Evans opened three checking accounts with Anderson Brothers Bank and structured deposits in excess of $500,000.00 through the accounts. Evans structured approximately $340,000.00 into the accounts he had with First Citizens Bank.” Now, however, Evans “wants to renege on his plea agreement,” reports Myrtle Beach Online, “saying he was pressured by his lawyer to make a deal with prosecutors that he didn’t fully understand.” Story: U.S. Attorney’s Office, January 10, 2013; Myrtle Beach Online, February 15, 2013

Peter HeskethSentenced: Peter Hesketh, 65, Roman Catholic deacon, Our Lady & St Pius X church, Kidderminster, Worcestershire, U.K., to three and a half years in prison after being convicted of stealiing more than £61,000 from an elderly man who died of dementia in a nursing home. Hesketh “persuaded widower Peter Court to sign over power of attorney to him and claimed to be investing in lucrative business deals,” reports the Mail Online. “But instead he took more than £60,000 from the vulnerable pensioner to pay for his own mortgage” — and used £20,000 to pay for his own daughter’s wedding — “later telling police that the money had been given to him in return for managing Mr Court’s finances.” Story: Worcester News, February 13, 2013; Mail Online, February 14, 2013

Rose Parks HinsonCharged: Rose Parks Hinson, 61, volunteer treasurer, St. Benedicts the Moor Catholic Church, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, with embezzling more than $4,000 from the church’s Saint Monica’s Ladies Guild Fund. Hinson is described on Facebook as “devoutly Roman Catholic; generous; honest; fair; a bit of a perfectionist to a fault; nice to be around; likes to work crossword puzzles and make greeting cards; sings on the Church choir; on the Executive Board of the local Chapter of AARP; MADD volunteer; Secretary of the Church Women’s Guild; a proud mother and grandmother.” Story: MyFox8.com, January 28, 2013; WXII, January 28, 2013

United StatesSentenced: Paul Haskell Lane, 69, former pastor, Church of God Prophecy, Pelham, Alabama, to three years and one month in federal prison followed by three years’ supervised probation, and ordered to pay nearly $344,000 in restitution, after his August, 2012, guilty plea to money laundering. At the time of the plea, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Northern District of Alabama, recounted: “In late 2009, Lane and his daughter, Katherine Hope Lane, 28, were separately indicted for wire fraud, mail fraud, and money laundering for their roles in a plan to get people in other states to wire money to Lane’s bank account. Those who sent money were led to believe it would go toward costs for a personal-injury lawsuit filed by the Lane family after Katherine Lane suffered a brutal assault at work.

“The Lanes represented that proceeds from the lawsuit would be used to repay people who donated. Most who provided money also believed that they would get back from the Lanes more money than they sent. Katherine Lane, however, was never assaulted, and the Lanes had never filed a lawsuit.

“Over the course of several years, Lane took the money that was wired into his account and gave it to his daughter. He acknowledged those actions in his money laundering plea and agreed to pay $343,900 in restitution, which is expected to go toward repaying those who sent money.

“Katherine Lane pleaded guilty in 2010 to wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and money laundering. She was sentenced in 2011 to seven years and three months in federal prison. Katherine Lane also pled guilty to felony state securities fraud charges related to her actions. Her sentence of seven years and three months on the state charges was ordered to run concurrently with the federal sentence.” Story: U.S. Attorney’s Office, October 29, 2009; U.S. Attorney’s Office, August 8, 2012; AL.com, February 28, 2013

Peter NitschkeStatus conference set: Peter David Nitschke, 45, Newport Beach, California attorney (Nitschke Law Group) and president, Lutheran Church of the Cross, Laguna Woods, California. (A status conference, according to the State Bar Court of California, is a “pre-hearing meeting of attorneys before a judge to discuss how a case is proceeding.”) According to the State Bar, Nitschke was suspended in September, 2012, “for two years, stayed, placed on three years of probation with a 30-day actual suspension and he was ordered to take the MPRE” (Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination, an ethics exam for lawyers). In September, Nitschke, explains the State Bar, “stipulated to three counts of misconduct,” committing “acts of moral turpitude” involving two different homeowners’ insurance claims by failing to keep each client abreast of the status of each case, and in one, falsely claiming authorization to settle.

More seriously, Nitschke, according to a press release from the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, “has been charged with embezzling over $720,000 from his client trust account from two elderly sisters after offering to assist them with their finances following the death of their mother.” Nitschke is charged with “two felony counts of theft from an elder with sentencing enhancements and allegations for over $100,000 loss, aggravated white collar crime over $500,000, and property loss over $200,000. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 12 years in state prison. …

“Nitschke, a then-Irvine-based attorney, is accused of being friends with the victim’s family and was president of their church congregation, the Lutheran Church of the Cross in Laguna Woods. The defendant is accused of offering to help Diane and Virginia C. settle the financial accounts and directed them to give him cashier’s checks in the amount of all the funds left to them in the bank accounts by their mother. He is accused of stealing over $675,000 from the victims by depositing the money into his personal bank accounts instead of placing it in his client trust account as required by the California State Bar. The defendant is also accused of stealing an additional $46,000 from the victim by failing to return the funds to them from a real estate transaction. Nitschke is accused of then spending the money or hiding it by moving it into other accounts.

“In early 2012, the victims’ family inquired with the defendant about the money to assist Diane and Virginia C. with medical and nursing home expenses. Despite the account having been closed with a zero balance, Nitschke is accused of creating a fraudulent bank statement dated that month to falsely show that the funds were in his client trust account. After becoming suspicious of the defendant’s handling of the accounts, the victim’s called IPD in May 2012.” Story: State Bar of California; Los Angeles Times, September 4, 2012; OCWeekly, September 5, 2012

Demario ThomasArrested: Demario Thomas, 31, former treasurer, First Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, Rodessa, Louisiana, “in connection with the theft of $31,746 from the church building fund,” according to the Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Office, which states: “Thomas is accused of writing 106 checks to himself between April 2010 and October 2012 while he served as treasurer of the First Antioch Missionary Baptist Church. Thomas signed his own name and forged the name of another board member for the two signatures required on the account. The majority of the checks were cashed, but many were deposited directly into Thomas’s personal account.” A MySpace profile shows employment as a driver/operator for Halliburton Energy Services — and a college major in criminal justice. Story: Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Office, February 12, 2013

Dead: Sonya Delores Wodke Tucker, a.k.a. Cheri Tucker, 68, formerly of Thousand Oaks, California, who, with her Mormon “priest” husband, Terrance George Tucker, a.k.a. Terry Tucker (currently serving a ten-year sentence in Lompoc, California), pleaded guilty to bank fraud in 2009 (both unsuccessfully appealed their convictions and sentences in 2011, and were denied rehearings in 2012), of undisclosed causes at a federal prison hospital in Texas, where she was incarcerated. As per their 2008 indictment, the Tuckers, through their business Tucker Mortgage, attempted to defraud numerous banks by brokering real esate loans obtained with fraudulent documents, ultimately sending most of their clients — whom they knew through their church, and most of whom were elderly — into bankruptcy.

As explained by the Thousand Oaks Acorn: “When the homeowners’ hard money loans came due, they would be advised to pay them off with a home equity line of credit obtained by the Tuckers. Instead of paying off the loans for the homeowners… the Tuckers would reinvest that money somewhere else into new hard money loans. When the scheme crumbled, the lives of those who trusted the Tuckers were left in shambles.” A cohort, Enrique Sandoval Martinez was convicted of fraud in a jury trial and sentenced to 15 years in 2011. Story: Thousand Oaks Acorn, April 9, 2009; Thousand Oaks Acorn, December 3, 2009; Thousand Oaks Acorn, March 10, 2011; Ventura County Star, February 12, 2013

Pamela WestSentenced: Pamela A. “Pam” West, 49, former business manager, Wyatt Park Christian Church, St. Joseph, Missouri, to seven years in prison after pleading guilty to embezzling more than $86,000, using church credit cards and forging another woman’s signature on church checks to make purchases for herself and her family, and pay her own bills and rent, among other expenses. With “no reasonable expectation of ever paying restitution,” reports the News-Press, Circuit Judge Dan Kellogg “said he considered calling her back after 120 days of shock time if there was a reasonable plan for paying restitution.”

“Shock time” or “shock probation,” explains wiseGeek, “is probation which is offered after a prisoner has served three to six months of a sentence. The idea behind shock probation is that the early stages of an incarceration are often the most difficult, and that they may startle a prisoner into good behavior once released. Shock probation is believed to reduce recidivism rates because it arranges for a prisoner release while a prisoner is still in shock from immersion into the penal system, in contrast with a prisoner who is released after several years who may have adjusted to the system and even picked up traits which may contribute to recidivism.” Story: Conservative Babylon, August 28, 2012; St. Joseph News-Press, January 24, 2013

Paul WolfeSentenced: Paul D. Wolfe, 42, former senior pastor, Hobe Sound Bible Church, Hobe Sound, Florida, to 44 months in prison, followed by three years’ supervised release, and restitution of $2,279,148.36, following a guilty plea to one count of wire fraud in connection with an investment scheme involving approximately $2.2 million in losses. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Florida, reports: “According to court documents, Wolfe’s investment fraud scheme spanned from 2005 through 2011. Wolfe, who operated as an unlicensed investment advisor, admitted that he provided false and fraudulent investment return data to numerous investors and that he inflated investment returns. Furthermore, Wolfe diverted investor funds, in part, to pay for his personal expenses.” Story: U.S. Attorney’s Office, February 11, 2013
 


 
* Commandment No. Seven: Thou shalt not steal. — Exodus 20:15

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