A pastor in Michigan has turned himself after being accused with stealing money from his church and lavishly spending it on himself.
Rev. Arthur Lee Pearson, Sr. was dismissed from his position of spiritual leader at the Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church for allegedly taking $237,374 from the church’s funds. He is accused by the church’s trustees of taking the money and using it for purchases at Red Lobster, Victoria’s Secret, Electric Cheetah and other retailers.
Last week, the Kent county prosecutor’s office authorized a warrant that charges Pearson with embezzlement of anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000. Prosecutors say the charges could be upgraded under the belief that more money may have been stolen, according to WOOD-TV 8.
His mother, Zelda Ford, denied the charges during church service on Sunday and said she never took any money, according to The Chicago Tribune. Pearson, who turned himself Tuesday morning, is awaiting arraignment at the Kent County Jail.
The church reported missing money in November. While Pearson admitted to taking $5,000, trustees claim he took over $200,000 since 2008, when he became pastor. The Kent County Prosecutor thinks others may have helped Pearson.
“We’re still investigating the possibility that others are involved,” Kent County Prosecutor told WOOD-TV 8. “It is believed that over $200,000 is missing.”
A company hired by the church to conduct a forensic analysis on the case found “questionable” expenditures to the church’s bank accounts totaling $237,374.40. A civil complaint alleges that a large portion of the stolen money was spent at retail stores like J.C. Penney and Victoria’s Secret between January 2008 and October 2011.
Thousands more were spent on other personal expenses such as car-related fees and dentist work. The civil complaint also alleges that Pearson’s wife and a former church bookkeeper were involved in the stolen funds.
A restraining order was filed against Pearson, after an altercation during a morning service earlier this month where police had to be called. The altercation involved trustees and Pearson, who was accompanied by security personnel, trying to gain access to a room where collections were counted, according to mlive.com. Some church members also refused to leave the church until the situation involving the pastor was discussed.
Police had been monitoring the church’s probe of its funds, according to The Tribune.
Pearson, who is married with two children, has no prior criminal record. He became executive pastor at Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church and senior pastor in 2008.