A former chairman of the board for the Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist, of Los Angeles was arrested for allegedly having stolen more than $11.4 million from his church for personal expenses.
54-year-old Charles Thomas Sebesta of Huntington Beach was arrested Monday on a grand jury indictment that indicted him on two counts of aggravated identity theft, five counts of bank fraud, and six counts of wire fraud.
According to a statement released Monday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, if convicted Sebesta could face up to 250 years in prison.
“From at least August 2006 through December 2016, Sebesta allegedly caused the church to make checks and other payments to fictitious companies for which he had opened bank accounts, as well as to accounts in his own name and in the names of his family members,” stated the Attorney’s Office.
“To further conceal these payments, Sebesta allegedly forged a church member’s signature on numerous checks drawn against the church’s bank accounts.”
The money allegedly stole went to, among other things, the purchase of a new home and membership at Disneyland’s exclusive dining club known as Club 33, according to the Justice Department.
In addition to the approximately $11.4 million allegedly stolen from the church, Sebesta has also been charged with allegedly stealing a little over $34,000 from a private high school that he worked at.
At his court appearance on Monday, Sebesta pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. The trial has been scheduled for Oct. 22, according to the Orange County Register.
Founded in 1879 by Mary Baker Eddy and based in Boston, Massachusetts, the Church of Christ, Scientist is controversial for its stressing of spiritual healing and its belief that Jesus Christ was divine, but not the Son of God.
“Christian Science subscribes to the Christian belief in an omnipotent, purposeful God, accepts the authority (though not the inerrancy) of the Bible, and holds the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ to be indispensable to the redemption of mankind,” explained Britannica.
“It departs from traditional Christianity in rejecting the deity (but not the divinity) of Jesus, seeing his life as exemplifying a divine sonship that belongs to all men and women as God’s children."