Disgraced Newark pastor admits stealing $160K from parishioners

| November 15, 2009

After bilking Newark parishioners out of nearly $160,000, disgraced Pentecostal bishop Steven Parrott pleaded guilty to misconduct by a corporate official, New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram announced Friday.

"In pleading guilty, Parrott admitted that he stole $157,580 from five victims named in the indictment," according to a statement released by the AG’s office. "Under the plea agreement, Parrott must pay full restitution to the victims, and the state will recommend that he be sentenced to three years in state prison."

In 2005, Parrott, former pastor of the Lighthouse Temple on Market Street, borrowed money from parishioners, saying he was about to receive a major grant from the government and would pay back the loans with interest. Depending on the victim, Parrott at turns said the money was going to a fictitious after-school program, necessary church repairs, or burying a family member.

According to Cynthia Fleming, Parrot’s lifelong friend and principal victim, the guilty plea helps ease the pain of the swindle, but after four years she said she is still suffering. Because of poor treatment by church officers in the intervening years, Fleming said she is suing the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith — the umbrella church under which Parrott served.

"I was unable to buy a house, and because of what he’s done to me I have so much debt," Fleming said today. "Even to the point where me and my grandkids were homeless."

After her son, James Jenkins, a decorated Iraq war veteran, killed himself in 2005, Fleming was awarded a sizeable death benefit. Throughout her battle with insurance agencies, Fleming said Parrott was a constant source of support. When the settlement was awarded, Parrott called the grieving mother and said God wanted him to borrow $25,000.

"The Lord told me to ask," Fleming recalled Parrott saying at the time. "It’s for my church."

Parrott invoked God several more times before claiming a total of $75,000 from Fleming, who today said she never imagined he was capable of such treachery.

"Ever since we were children, I never knew anything bad about him," Fleming said. "He was always a very gentle person and I had great respect for him and that’s why it’s so devastating."

Worse, said Fleming, the Church of Our Lord has washed its hands of Fleming and her family and has offered no assistance since the theft.

"Bishop Rubin was nothing but nasty," Fleming said of Rev. Fred Rubin, a church leader. "I told him I was being evicted and he said ‘I’ll pray for you.’"

Bishop Rubin declined to comment for this story.

According to Fleming, the checks she wrote to Parrott had a stamped endorsement from the "Metropolitan Diocese," which she said makes the church liable for monetary damages. She says the church’s refusal to offer any kind of assistance exacerbated her suffering, already profound from the loss of her son, and the betrayal of her pastor.

"I endured such a hardship and no one would reach out and help me," Fleming said. "It was like I never existed."

Fleming is currently living in Burlington County with her daughter and grandchildren because she cannot afford her own home. While the attorney general says Parrott will be responsible for paying back all of the victims, he declared bankruptcy in 2005 and has not worked as a pastor since 2007, when the church barred him from performing services. Despite her ordeal, Fleming is not without mercy.

"God forgives," Fleming said today. "And I have to forgive him as well."



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Category: Church Security

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