Pastor of Oldest African-American Church in LA Accused of Lavish Lifestyle at Members' Expense

In spite of being accused of sexual harassment and financial improprieties, the former pastor of First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles, the Rev. John J. Hunter, continues to assert his innocence, arguing that the allegations made against him are an attack on his ministry.

"My life, my ministry has been characterized by those attacking me," Hunter told the Los Angeles Times in a Dec. 5 report, which references the recent lawsuit brought against Hunter and his wife on behalf of the Los Angeles First AME Church.

The lawsuit accuses the pastor and his wife, Denise Hunter, of "holding dictatorial control over [the church] … for their own personal gain – both financially and for self-aggrandizement."

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of First AME Church, located in the West Adams district of Los Angeles, accuses the Hunters of financial improprieties, as well as their refusal to relinquish control of church finances.

Mr. Hunter still lives in a mulit-million dollar home paid for by the church, and Mrs. Hunter maintains control of church-related nonprofit organizations.

Hunter told the LA Times that the accusations are false.

"To be then characterized as some looter and somebody who's been greedy … nothing can be further from the truth," Hunter said.

Since his appointment as pastor of First AME church in 2004, Hunter has faced a slew of accusations which ultimately resulted in his transfer from the church in Oct. 2012.

In 2008, an IRS audit found that Hunter had used the church's credit card to purchase $122,000 in personal expenditures.

In Nov. 2009, former church employee Brenda Lamothe filed a civil lawsuit against Hunter for sexual harassment, which was settled for an undisclosed amount.

At the time of the lawsuit, Hunter received a wide amount of praise and support from the fellow leaders of First AME.

"Pastor John has our full support," Church Trustee Constance Fortune told Reuters in 2009 in reference to the sexual harassment lawsuit against him.

"Pastor John has been a blessing to our church and to the community and we stand with him, not only in his ministry, but
also in the legal action we are taking against Ms. Lamothe," Fortune added.

In Oct. 2012, Bishop T. Larry Kirkland, head of AME churches in the western U.S., transferred Hunter to the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in San Francisco.

Congregants of the church blocked Hunter from delivering his first sermon, stating that they feared his presence would "impair the legacy, reputation, relationships and goodwill" of their church.

At the time of Hunter's rejection from Bethel AME, Bishop Kirkland voiced his support for the troubled pastor, suggesting members of the congregation should be supportive of Hunter and slow to judge accusations surrounding him.

As the Los Angeles Times points out, the First AME Church, with a congregation of 19,000, is now suffering from an immense debt of $500,000.

The has church suggested that Hunter and his wife engaged in a series of financial improprieties that must be repaid to the congregation, including the disappearance of $6.5 million in proceeds from property sales during the Rev. Hunter's eight-year tenure.

As The Grio reports, regardless of the allegations against him, Hunter still plans to reinstate his role as pastor of First AME in Los Angeles. He is currently on medical leave while the church's national board decides his position with the church.

Currently, Pastor J. Edgar Boyd is the senior minister at First AME.