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A Southern Maryland pastor who amassed millions in wealth has been sentenced to more than two years in prison for hiding church assets and failing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.
Robert J. Freeman of Save the Seed Ministry in Waldorf, Md., bought luxury cars, had a $1.75 million home, two four-car garages and a jet-ski lift, but on Monday prosecutors in Greenbelt concluded that he had taken money from his congregation to afford all of this property.
"Freeman lived a life of fraud and deception, using millions of dollars from church members, and fraudulently obtained credit to pay for luxury cars and a mansion while falsely representing in court that he was indigent," said Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein in a statement, The Washington Post reported.
The 56-year-old pastor, who was also known by the nickname "Dr. Shine," admitted that he lied during bankruptcy proceedings and has taken responsibility for his actions, although he claimed his church members were well aware what the ministry's money was going toward.
"I did all this publicly," Freeman told U.S. District Court Judge Roger W. Titus. "There wasn't nothing shady about it."
Defense attorney Guana E. Williams added: "He was not out to benefit himself; he was out to benefit his congregation."
The court showed that not only did the pastor make congregants pay for the cars and the mansion, but in some cases members had to take out loans which they could not repay and ended up losing their homes and their jobs.
"The essence of this crime was taking advantage of unwitting people," Judge Titus added, sentencing Freeman to 27 months in prison and ordering him to pay more than $630,000 to four church members who had been duped into taking out large loans to give to the church.
"When you're in it, you think you're doing the will of God, but it's deceptive," said Brenton Cloud of Edegwater, one of the recipients of the money. "I'm glad it's over and he can't dupe anyone else for at least another two years."
"Dr. Shine" built his ministry over two decades, and scored TV broadcasts deals which helped widen his audience and attract new members. As a former drug addict, Freeman frequently spoke about drug treatment and therapy. The Washington Post detailed the pastor holding 10- to 12-hour Bible study sessions where he tried to "detox" drug addicts and even sometimes attempted exorcisms.
His former wife, Claudette "Dee Dee" Freeman, who was also involved in the church and filed for bankruptcy, leads her own ministry.