A former pastor and his wife were indicted last week by a grand jury in Harris County, Texas for allegedly gambling away nearly $430,000 in church funds. The pair was charged with aggregate theft and "misapplication of fiduciary property."
Charles and Adriane Gilford, who were pastor and first lady of Bethel Institutional Missionary Baptist Church (BIMBC) in Houston, allegedly spent the money at the Coushatta Casino near Lake Charles between 2004 and 2007, before leaving the congregation five years ago.
Neither the Gilfords nor the Bethel Institutional Missionary Baptist Church have publicly commented on the charges, but former church members who went to church while Gilfords served there expressed their shock at the story and found it difficult to believe that a couple who had been so helpful to the community could have wasted so much of the congregation's money.
"And when I tell you impeccable people, outstanding people willing to help, I just, this is a little bit too much for me," expressed Regina Davis to KHOU-TV when she was informed of the couple's arrest.
"It doesn't make sense," added her son, Freddie Davis. "As far as I know, they are really genuine people, both Pastor Gilford and sister Gilford. They have been courteous and amazing over the years."
The charges, which were based on extensive financial records, could carry a sentence of anywhere between five years to life in prison. Adriane Gilford has a previous arrest from 2010 on a felony charge of writing bad checks in Calcasieu Parish, La. The Gilfords were each being held on $800,000 bail in the Harris County Jail, and are due in court on Monday.
The official website for Bethel Institutional Missionary Baptist Church does not address the situation, and phone messages left by The Christian Post were not immediately returned.
"Welcome to Bethel. A place where you can come and receive the salvation of our Lord and Savior, obtain restoration and be rejuvenated to serve mankind . We are here to serve you," reads a short message by the congregation's new pastor, Murphy D. Simon, Jr.