Former pastor gets nearly five years for embezzling

| October 2, 2010

HIGHLAND COUNTY — Former pastor James Blaine was taken into custody by Highland County Sheriff Ron Ward Friday afternoon after he was sentenced to four years and 11 months in prison for embezzling more than $250,000 from his church.

Telling Blaine “You were entrusted with the spiritual needs of your congregation and you exploited them,” Highland County Common Pleas Court Judge Rocky Coss handed down a tougher sentence than was initially recommended by the prosecution, and ordered Blaine to pay $267,911 in restitution to the church.

Blaine pleaded guilty in August to one count of forgery, a fifth-degree felony, and one count of aggravated theft, a third-degree felony, after admitting he stole thousands of dollars from the Good Shepherd Church in Greenfield.

In the plea deal, the Highland County Prosecutor’s Office dropped the remaining 15 counts Blaine was indicted on, and recommended a prison sentence of three years and eight months. The state also said they would not oppose judicial release.

However, following a pre-sentencing investigation, assistant prosecutor David Henry indicated that the state might not be inclined to offer the same plea bargain today.

Henry said that after Blaine appeared to show remorse for his actions, “it came to the state’s attention that he provided letters to some members of his congregation, stating he did not cause harm to anyone … these letters are evidence that he has no remorse.”

Blaine indicated in the letters that he wasn’t telling the truth when he admitted to theft, in order to get the plea deal, Henry said.

The sentencing came after Highland County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Det. Dan Croy testified how Blaine put church money in his own bank account and opened bank accounts in the name of the church that the church did not know about.

One of Blaine’s former congregates, Lanny Bryant, spoke at the hearing, telling Blaine that he had left the church indebted and disillusioned.

“What you failed to realize is that church is not mortar and stone, but it’s flesh and bone. When you took money from the church, in reality you stole it from all these people sitting behind me… many of them are on fixed incomes, and what they gave, they gave to the Lord and they sacrificed for him,” he said. “…You always spoke about how to manage money … your messages were always very good, but the messenger did not practice what he preached.”

Blaine told the court that he had dedicated the last 10 years to serving people in Highland County and growing the church, “spiritually and numerically.”

“I invested my life and my finances in the church … and in so doing I overextended myself and borrowed money against church assets without the church’s permission. I erred in the way I handled it, and that’s why we’re here today,” he said. “I take full responsibility for my actions, and I’m incredibly sorry for the damage that has been done to the kingdom of God in this area.”

Blaine asked the court to impose a community control sanction instead of prison time.

In sentencing Blaine, Coss said that the position of pastor should be a sacred one, not only in religion but in law.

“During my tenure here as a judge I’ve seen a lot of thieves. I’ve seen thieves who steal under the cover of darkness. You did it under cover of your position as pastor,” Coss said. “What makes your case especially aggravating is that you were entrusted with the spiritual needs of your congregation and you exploited them. And that is reprehensible.”

Blaine’s sentence was ordered to begin immediately following the hearing.

 

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