A Tennessee church is steadfastly maintaining the innocence of a pastor accused of defrauding a man with mental disabilities out of more than $27,000 and taking control of more than $366,000 of the man's pension and Social Security benefits.
A grand jury in Marion County indicted David Berry last Monday on one count of violation of the Computer Crimes Act, one count of theft over $10,000 but less than $60,000 and one count of financial exploitation of an elderly or vulnerable adult.
A report published by Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury Jason Mumpower last Wednesday details allegations against Berry, pastor of the Praise & Worship Family Outreach Center in Jasper. He also owns and operates a business called The Tax Service.
The Praise & Worship Family Outreach Center released a statement on its Facebook page Tuesday proclaiming Berry's innocence.
"You will hear that Pastor David has been arrested. These are totally unfounded accusations," the statement reads. "Our pastor, brother, friend and his wife need everyone in the family of faith standing with him now more than ever!"
According to Mumpower's report, Berry was appointed as the representative payee through the Social Security Administration's Representative Payment Program to manage disability payments for a disabled adult in 2011.
The adult in question was "unable to fully manage his own resources" due to "an intellectual disability." Through his role as the unnamed adult's representative payee, Berry was tasked with paying for the man's food, shelter, clothes, medical care and personal comfort items using Social Security funds.
The Social Security Administration notes that "a payee has no legal authority to manage non-Social Security income," while Tennessee law makes it illegal to "knowingly financially exploit a vulnerable adult." Mumpower's report maintains that Berry "misappropriated at least $27,386.29 belonging to the disabled adult."
"As the disabled adult requested the Social Security Administration (SSA) to assign Berry as his representative payee, Berry opened a representative payee checking account to receive the disabled adult's social security payments," the report states. "As a representative payee, he alone had access to account checkbook and debit card. SSA's policy does not allow the beneficiary direct access to their account, and Berry did not give the disabled adult access to his account bank statements for review."
The specific allegations outlined in the report assert that while the disabled adult authorized monthly tithes of 10% to the Praise & Worship Family Outreach Center, Berry repeatedly wrote checks in excess of that amount to his church from the man's checking account. The total in excess tithes given to the church over nine years, lasting from November 2011 through August 2020, amounted to $16,686.42.
Additionally, Berry is accused of transferring $5,000 from the man's savings account to his checking account and then withdrawing the money as cash. An additional $4,000 from the savings account allegedly went directly into Berry's personal checking account.
The report states that a combined total of $898.75 from the disabled adult's checking account was used illicitly to pay for dental care for Berry and his wife. Berry told investigators that an additional $801.12 in funds from the checking account was misappropriated to cover the costs of repairs to his personal vehicle.
In addition to the allegations of misappropriation, Berry is charged with controlling a total of $366,587.76 in funds consisting of the disabled adult's pension benefits and Social Security benefits belonging to the man's wife without proper authorization. Investigators say this money was put into a savings account that Berry controlled, with purchases coming out of the account covering "restaurant purchases, fuel purchases, various retail store purchases, a loan for a Super Bowl party, numerous cash transactions, and other questionable purchases."
The final allegation contained in the report states that Berry made questionable transfers totaling $9,549.50 from accounts belonging to the man and his wife to unknown accounts.
In its statement, the Praise & Worship Family Outreach Center claimed, "The enemy has been trying everything to defame and stop the promotion of the Kingdom of God in our community."
The church insisted that Berry's arrest would not impact the day-to-day operations.
"All areas of ministry under ATTAIN will continue as usual, Sunday services, Thursday night Bible study, Recovery ministry, and the Community Kitchen," the statement asserts.
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org