Summary:

Tens of millions of dollars have gone missing, leaving AME pensioners and those nearing retirement with the prospect of living out their last days in penury

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Financial scandals and churches go together like Adam and Eve, and the latest to hit the headlines involves America’s oldest historically Black denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME).

Religion News Service reports that retired and current pastors in Florida, Maryland, and Virginia have filed lawsuits against the church, alleging that it, and its related financial institutions, were negligent and breached their fiduciary responsibilities.

As a consequence, hundreds of millions of dollars have gone missing from pension funds.

One of the lawsuits was filed by Florida pastor Rev. Charles Jackson in Orlando. Jackson is seeking a jury trial and punitive damages in the complaint filed in federal court in Tennessee.

The lawsuit says that Jackson and others are retired, and had suddenly learned that resources they relied on to support themselves, to depend on in times of bad health, and to simply enjoy during retirement, have been stolen from them by people they trusted.

The pastors, who were required to participate in the AME church retirement plan, said they have been unable to get access to their money.

In their lawsuit filed in Virginia, the Revs. Derrell Wade and Reuben Boyd allege that between $80 million and $90 million was unaccounted for by either 2020 or 2021.

In his lawsuit, the Rev. Cedric Alexander of Bowie, Maryland said the then-chair of the church’s retirement fund invested money in undeveloped land in Florida and a now-defunct capital venture outfit, and gave a promissory note to an installer of solar panels. The lawsuit alleges violations of a federal law protecting employee retirement funds.

The Maryland lawsuit alleged that church’s retirement fund chair:

Invested Plan assets in imprudent, extraordinarily risky investments that ultimately lost nearly $100 million of Plan participants’ retirement savings.

In a statement on Tuesday, the church said it was limited in what it could say because of the litigation but noted that it had resumed some distributions to fund participants starting last month.

We appreciate our community’s concern and remain grateful for the patience of our clergy, staff and members as we continue to investigate this matter.

In a message posted to its website late last month, the church acknowledged that retirement fund participants “may have been the victim of a financial crime.”

After a new administrator of the church’s Department of Retirement Services took over last year, financial “irregularities” were uncovered in some retirement fund investments. The church has hired an outside legal firm and forensics experts to conduct an investigation, the statement said.

The AME Church takes financial irregularities and disclosures seriously, and we are committed to the restoration of any impacted retirement funds. We are also committed to making every fund participant whole by restoring their full investment plus interest.

Attorney Greg Francis, who is representing Jackson, the Florida pastor, said he hoped the lawsuits will eventually be consolidated into a class action.

Jackson, 72, told The Associated Press in a phone interview that he feels betrayed.

When you take advantage of my money, you lose my trust. You lose the trust of your employees.

Earlier this year two former leaders of the AME Zion Church in California were arrested on federal charges after authorities alleged they defrauded churches across the state out of $14 million.

OnlySky’s Hemant Mehta reported that Staccato Powell, above, had been arrested, along with Sheila Quintana, for defrauding several congregations by illegally taking control of their buildings, then using that property to obtain $14 million in loans for his personal needs.

Veteran journalist and free speech activist Barry Duke was, for 24 years, editor of The Freethinker magazine, the second oldest continually active freethought publication in the world, established by G.W....