Gregg Matte, pastor of Houston's First Baptist Church, explained why the megachurch did not tell its congregation that an ex-minister stole more than $800,000 of the church’s finances.
“Unfortunately, due to the sensitive nature of the legal and investigative procedures triggered by this matter, we have not been able to provide these details until now. While we were unable to inform the church body because of the ongoing investigation, we informed and kept updated the related church committees, including personnel, finance, and missions committees, along with key staff and the deacon body, throughout this process," Matte said in a statement to KPRC2 on Tuesday.
"These past months have been challenging and painful for us as the extent of Jerrell’s actions came to light and as we wrestled with the tension of wanting to inform the congregation, while also carefully following law enforcement’s lead in the investigation, balancing legal constraints with church procedures."
Jerrell G. Altic, the former minister in question, is accused of embezzling the large sum of money over a six-year period at the church from 2011 to 2017.
KTRK reported that Altic surrendered to authorities on Tuesday morning after being indicted by a Harris County grand jury.
Prosecutors said that the theft involved a number of misrepresentations and forgery. Altic apparently used the money to fund overseas trips, get a doctorate from Lancaster Bible School and for other expenses.
James Alston, Altic's attorney, said that his client is "cooperating fully with the district attorney's office."
"He feels horrible for what has happened and the pain that has caused everyone at the church and his family members, and he would want me to tell everyone that he's sorry," Alston shared.
The attorney added that Altic has contacted church elders to talk with them about ways he can start paying back the money he took.
Matte revealed in his statement that Houston's First Baptist Church found out back in November 2017 that Altic had been involved in suspicious financial activity. When he was confronted, the now former minister in charge of missions handed in his resignation.
What followed was both an internal and external investigation, which uncovered more than $800,000 of the church’s finances being embezzled.
The senior pastor insisted that although the fraudulent activities involved missions funds, "all of Houston’s First ministry partners received their designated monies, as his actions did not prevent our church from providing resources to local ministries, church plants or other strategic partners."
He also revealed that the megachurch's insurance coverage has paid out $500,000 to reimburse a significant part of the loss.
"As challenging as this discovery has been for everyone involved, we have also been encouraged by the continued generosity and passion for missions work from our congregation — including through generous, unsolicited financial gifts from those who have come to know of his wrongdoing,” Matte stated.
"We pray for God’s work to continue to be done at Houston’s First, and for Jerrell and his family. Houston’s First remains committed to the advancement of the Gospel in our city, our nation and around the world (Acts 1:8). We understand and take seriously our responsibility to properly steward the resources God gives us through the generosity of our church family."