DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — A local megachurch is speaking out to Channel 2 Action News about a financial scheme targeting Black congregations across the country.
House of Hope Atlanta filed this lawsuit on Tuesday because of what they are calling a nationwide conspiracy that cost them millions of dollars.
Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Mark Winne spoke with the church’s pastor.
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Pastor E. Dewey Smith said before he speaks in the sanctuary of Greater Travelers Rest Baptist Church, one of Georgia’s most prominent houses of worship, with more than 10,000 members, he turns to God for guidance.
But before he spoke one recent Sunday, he turned to church attorneys too, and in the place where he delivers the good news, he delivered some bad news to his congregation.
“Recently we discovered some information that’s been incredibly troubling,” Smith told his congregation on Sunday.
According to Smith, when Greater Travelers Rest bought its current home, it was victimized by a complicated financial scheme.
Now, the church has filed a lawsuit saying it was the target of a nationwide conspiracy to defraud churches, notably Black churches.
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The lawsuit alleges fraud, theft by deception, racketeering, and more, against a long list of defendants.
The suit mentions the church being founded in 1876, listing Dr. Martin Luther King Sr. among its former pastors.
But Smith says that by 2009, it needed a lot more space.
“In four years, we’d gone from 400 members to over 4,000,” Smith said.
When the sprawling campus of Chapel Hill Harvester Church went up for sale after scandal engulfed its founder, the late Bishop Earl Paulk Jr., it seemed like the answer.
Church attorney Quinton Washington told Channel 2 Action News that to buy the property, Greater Travelers Rest was deceived into believing it had to take over a financing arrangement Chapel Hill Harvester had with key defendants in the lawsuit — Herring National Bank out of Texas and American Investors Group led by Philip Myers. It was an arrangement so complex it took years to come to light, where bonds were supposed to be sold to investors on behalf of the church to raise money.
“You have to register the bonds with the appropriate financial institutions and then you go on the open market and sell them. Did that happen here? No,” Washington told Channel 2.
Smith says the problems came to light after the church learned that former Herring National Bank vice-president Catana Gray, who played a key role in the supposed bonds, had been terminated and was banned by the Texas Banking Commission after she allegedly accepted a bond worth $100,000 as a gift from Myers of American Investors Group.
“Will this church be able to survive? Absolutely. We’ve been around 146 years,” said Smith.
The suit alleges that some of the defendants failed to give credit to the church for millions of dollars in payments.
Smith believes God allowed all this to happen so the pastor could help other churches in similar situations.
Channel 2 Action News made extensive efforts by phone or email to get responses from Myers, Gray, Herring National Bank and American Investors Group.
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