Feds arrest pastor for fraud, extortion, false statements

Crime

(NewsNation) —  The FBI unsealed an indictment charging Brooklyn, New York, pastor Lamor Whitehead with defrauding one of his parishioners out of part of her retirement savings, attempting to extort and defraud a businessman and lying to the FBI, a Monday press release reveals.

Whitehead, who was arrested this morning, was allegedly robbed mid-service by gunmen in July.

“As we allege today, Lamor Whitehead abused the trust placed in him by a parishioner, bullied a businessman for $5,000, then tried to defraud him of far more than that, and lied to federal agents. His campaign of fraud and deceit stops now,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a press release.

Whitehead, who refers to himself as Bishop Whitehead, is the leader of the nondenominational Christian church in Brooklyn, New York. Unlike established denominations, like Catholicism, nondenominational churches do not typically have any governing body of authority or specific requirements for religious leaders.

Leaders of Tomorrow International Churches describes itself as a Bible-based, spirit-led church. Whitehead was known for his flashy suits and jewelry, preaching what is known as the prosperity gospel. It’s a theology that says those with strong faith will be blessed with material and financial success.

Whitehead drew attention in August, when he was robbed at the pulpit, thieves making off with jewelry from Whitehead and his wife estimated to be worth as much as $1 million.

Whitehead claims he makes no money from leading the church, which serves a small congregation that led to questions of how he funded his lifestyle.

The press release went on to detail the specifics of the charges, which included threatening and making false statements to victims in exchange for money and other items of value.

In one instance, the Feds allege, Whitehead induced one of his parishioners to invest approximately $90,000 of her retirement savings with him, but instead spent the investment on luxury goods and other personal purposes.

In another instance, the Feds accuse Whitehead of extorting a businessman for $5,000, then attempting to convince the same businessman to lend him $500,000 in exchange for political favors he knew he could not deliver.

Lastly, the Feds said they learned Whitehead owned a second phone which he regularly used to communicate with after Feds obtained a search warrant. This came after Whitehead claimed he had no cell phones other than the phone he was carrying.

“Whitehead carried out several duplicitous schemes in order to receive funds from his victims. Additionally, when speaking with authorities, Whitehead consciously chose to mislead and lie to them,” FBI assistant director, Michael J. Driscoll said in the press release.

It’s not the first time Whitehead has faced trouble with the law. After the robbery drew attention to his church, reports of previous legal trouble surfaced. In New Jersey, court records showed Whitehead $400,000 to the company that built his house and to a credit union where he financed his luxury cars.

Whitehead worked as a mortgage broker before becoming a pastor, and a former client told The New York Times Whitehead approached him for a $20,000 loan, promising he’d pay it back with an additional $25,000. The client was never paid and successfully sued Whitehead.

In 2008, Whitehead was convicted of identity theft for a fraud scheme where he used data obtained by his girlfriend, who worked at a car dealership and had access to customers’ credit reports, to take out loans for cars and motorcycles in other people’s names.

Whitehead served five years in prison. After he was released, he began his ministry.

In total, Whitehead faces up to 45 years: Two counts of wire fraud, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; one count of extortion, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; and one count of making material false statements, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

The case is assigned to United States District Judge Lorna G. Schofield.

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