NYC pastor accused of stealing $631K from charities to pay for vacations, bar tabs

(Photo: Reuters)
(Photo: Reuters)

A New York City pastor was charged with stealing over $631,000 from two charities that served HIV/AIDS-infected drug addicts and spent much of the money on things like  Carribean vacations as well as restaurant and bar tabs.  

Bronx pastor Reginald Williams of Charity Baptist Church of Christ and two others — Bennie Hadnott and Naomi Barrera — were arraigned on grand larceny charges in Manhattan Supreme Court on Wednesday. The three pled not guilty to the charges, according to the New York Post

Williams was the CEO of a tax-payer funded nonprofit called Addicts Rehabilitation Center Fund and was chairman of the board for another tax-payer funded entity Addicts Rehabilitation Center Foundation.

According to the district attorney's office, the organizations contracted with the city and state agencies to provide housing to New Yorkers with substance and alcohol dependency issues as well as those who live with HIV/AIDs.

It's alleged that Williams sought the help of Barrera and Hadnott to implement a series of schemes he devised to embezzle money from the organizations. 

Barrera is the president of the ARC Foundation while Hadnott is a financial consultant who provided services to the ARC Foundation.

“As alleged, these defendants shamelessly stole from publicly funded organizations dedicated to helping vulnerable New Yorkers," Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said in a statement. 

"Even while their organizations struggled financially – failing to meet contractual obligations and even furloughing employees without pay – these defendants continued to drain the coffers for their personal gain."

Court documents indicate that since 2010, Williams acted with Hadnott and Barrera to steal $65,432.76 from the ARC Fund and $565,839.56 from the ARC Foundation through the various schemes. 

One alleged scheme involved the ARC Foundation paying Hadnott's consulting firm $40,000 a year for financial consulting services. 

In return, the court documents say, Hadnott kicked back 25 percent of those payments to Williams each year between 2010 and 2015. This means that over $54,000 in total was kicked back to Williams through the scheme. 

Prosecutors say that all but one of those checks were made payable to "Alternative Strategies," a shell entity controlled by Williams that he "used to conceal and spend stolen funds."

Acting in concert with Barrera, Williams was also accused of stealing from the ARC Foundation on two occasions after the ARC Foundation received an influx of cash. 

As a result, Williams allegedly received $135,000 while Barrera received $30,000. Barrera allegedly filed a false document to the city's human resources agency while applying for bridge loans on behalf of the ARC Foundation. 

Prosecutors also say that Williams stole funds from the ARC Foundation and the ARC Fund by requesting reimbursements for personal matters that he claimed were business-related expenses. 

Through this scheme, Williams is said to have received over $100,000 in reimbursements for travel expenses to places like the Bahamas, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic for not only himself but his family and friends. 

The expenses included lodging, restaurant, bar tabs, and taxi fares. In addition, Williams was said to have received $170,000 for frequent restaurant and bar tabs in New York City. 

On certain occasions, prosecutors say that Williams submitted the same expenses to the ARF Fund and the ARC Foundation to receive double reimbursement. He was also accused of falsely inflating expenses by altering receipts submitted for reimbursement. 

“These defendants should have safeguarded the finances of these taxpayer-funded nonprofits. Instead, they diverted public funds from their intended mission to provide housing and social services to individuals overcoming alcohol and substance abuse and those living with HIV/AIDS," New York City Department of Investigation Commissioner Margaret Garnett said in a statement.  

"They then used this stolen money for their personal benefit, including paying for personal travel and hotels, according to the charges."

Williams was charged with four counts of grand larceny in the second degree and one count of grand larceny in the third degree. 

Hadnott was charged with one count of grand larceny in the second degree, while Barrera was charged with two counts of grand larceny in the second degree and one count of offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree.

Williams' attorney Paul Martin told the New York Daily News that his client personally raised over $14 million for the foundation and stated that "every dime received (from the nonprofits) he was entitled to."

Meanwhile, Barrera's attorney, Robert Walters, told the news outlet that Barrera had "little if any authority" in ARC finances.

Hadnott's attorney, Sanford Talkin, reportedly stated that his client has a "distinguished career as an accountant” and wants to make sure "this isn’t a blemish on his record."

Williams has led Charity Baptist Church of Christ in the Bronx for over two decades.

Charity Baptist Church of Christ's website describes Williams as a "gifted counselor" who is highly regarded for his "spiritual generosity." 

The church describes itself as a "tithing church" and declares that Williams is deeply committed to "fiscal integrity" and "accountable stewardship."  

The Christian Post reached out to Charity Baptist Church of Christ on Thursday afternoon. No one could be reached for comment. 

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

or Facebook: SamuelSmithCP

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