Police search home of pastor whose church was set on fire

| August 6, 2010

The pastor of a Vinton church who police suspect set fire to his church last year may have been trying to cover up an embezzlement, according to a search warrant filed Thursday.

No one has been charged in the March 10, 2009, arson that caused $100,000 in damage to New Beginning Baptist Church in the 600 block of Vale Avenue Northeast.

The pastor, the Rev. Tony Eugene St. Clair, was found lying injured outside the church and smelled strongly of gasoline, according to a search warrant filed last year.

A Virginia State Police investigator wrote in a search warrant filed Thursday in Roanoke Circuit Court that a financial ledger that St. Clair gave to police is incomplete.

Several check stubs are whited-out, the search warrant said, and other stubs have no writing on them to show the purpose or amount of the check or to whom the check was written. And records of deposits and the account balance is incomplete, the search warrant said.

"One motive for the fire would be an attempt to cover up embezzlement of funds from the church," the search warrant said.

Tony St. Clair's wife, Kathleen St. Clair, was the church's treasurer when the fire happened and remains in that position, according to the document.

State police officers and at least one investigator with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives searched the St. Clairs' Southeast Roanoke house on Thursday afternoon. They were looking for credit cards, bank statements, checks, receipts, invoices, cellphones, computers and more, according to the search warrant. It was unclear what they seized.

The St. Clairs stood outside the one-story house with two state police officers. Tony St. Clair walked to the back of the house without commenting when a reporter approached.

State police Sgt. Frank Parries said the St. Clairs told him they did not want to be interviewed.

No one affiliated with the church could be reached Thursday. A neighbor said last year that the congregation was small, with just six or seven cars parked in the lot for Sunday services.



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Category: Church Security

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