Pastor on trial for theft defended as merely negligent

| August 19, 2010

A former pastor accused of stealing more than $1 million from World of Pentecost Church was negligent, not criminal, in handling church finances, his attorney said today.

David A. Thompson, who headed the East Side church from 1995 to 2007, will take the witness stand to defend his actions during a trial that is expected to last at least a week in Franklin County Common Pleas Court.

"He is not going to deny reckless behavior," defense attorney Stephen P. Ames told Judge Stephen L. McIntosh. "He is not going to deny that he submitted false reports" to church members.

But the case "is and always was a civil matter," Ames said.

A lawsuit filed by the church against Thompson is scheduled for private mediation on Nov. 24.

A grand jury returned a 23-count indictment against Thompson in February 2009, charging him with theft, tampering with records, money laundering, engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity and filing incomplete or false income-tax returns.

Thompson, 47, of Canal Winchester, waived his right to a jury trial, leaving McIntosh to decide the case.

In opening statements today, Assistant Prosecutor Jason Moore told the judge that Thompson received a six-figure salary from the church at 3431 E. Main St., but "it wasn't enough … He took funds to make a better lifestyle for himself."

That lifestyle included a swimming pool installed in his backyard and luxury automobiles, Moore said.

As pastor, Thompson had control of two accounts: an assistance fund from which he took his salary and anything he thought necessary "to meet the needs of the assembly," and a building fund.

Moore said that Thompson began moving money from the building fund into the assistance fund and using it for his personal expenses, including paying off tens of thousands of dollars in credit-card debt.

Moore said Thompson also took out loans on behalf of the church, including mortgages on the church building, without telling the congregation, and used the proceeds to support his lifestyle. He also is accused of spending nearly $1 million that the church received for selling land it owned instead of placing the money in the building fund.

He hid the activity by presenting the congregation with false annual reports on the building fund, Moore said.

By the time the problems were discovered and Thompson was fired, both funds had been depleted and the church was in debt.

Ames said that Thompson's generosity caused much of the problem, including a Cadillac buoght for a church member, and that the credit-card debt resulted from church-related purchases.

The pastor had the authority to spend the money but realized he "did it negligently and then was ashamed of it," Ames said. "That's why he filed false reports."

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