Sunday, December 04, 2005

 

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Okay, I'm furiously catching up this weekend. I appreciate all the mail I've gotten lately, and we'll get them up soon!

Continuous comment thread here.

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Former pastor admits to breaking into old church


TUSCOLA, Mich. - State police say a former pastor who wants to get back into the ministry must atone for his sin before preaching again.

Detectives say the suspect admitted to breaking into his old church in Tuscola County this week.

A church caretaker scared him off. Troopers used a license number obtained by the caretaker, to track him down.

Detectives have requested warrants from county prosecutors. The man is being held in the county jail.


See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.

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Kennebunk pastor will step aside amid probe


KENNEBUNK, Maine — The pastor of St. Martha's Roman Catholic Church is stepping aside while the Diocese of Portland investigates an allegation that he improperly touched a 9-year-old girl six years ago. Bishop Richard Malone made the announcement regarding the Rev. Laurent Laplante to parishioners at Saturday afternoon Mass at the church off Route 1.

Malone said the 74-year-old priest has denied any wrongdoing, according to a statement released by the diocese. However, Laplante has agreed to "step aside temporarily" and cooperate with the diocese as it looks into the matter, Malone said.

He said the Rev. Maurice Lebel, a retired priest in the diocese, will fill in for Laplante, who has been with the parish for 10 years.

Laplante allegedly touched the girl in 1999, but she only recently reported it, according to the diocese's statement. The allegation was that "Fr. Laplante touched her pants on the knee and inner thigh," Malone said.

The diocese said it immediately reported the allegation to public authorities. Malone has also spoken to the family of the girl, now a high school student, and the diocese has offered her support and counseling, the diocese said.

However, Malone stressed to parishioners Saturday that the girl's claim is still only that.

"Let me be very clear, this is an allegation," the bishop's statement said. "The diocese is just beginning its investigation in the hope that greater clarity can be obtained as to what indeed happened."

Malone said Laplante's removal from public ministry is consistent with diocesan policy and is to "preserve the integrity of the process, to give potential witnesses the greatest freedom and to further the church's commitment to protect children."

Malone urged anyone with information on the case, or who has been abused by a priest or some other representative of the church, to contact the diocese.

However, Paul Kendrick, a co-founder of the Maine chapter of Voice of the Faithful, a church reform group which advocates for victims of clergy abuse, said that group advises victims of abuse to contact police first.

Kendrick, who in the past has criticized the way the diocese has responded to abuse allegations, said Saturday that in this case, "it seems (the diocese) has reacted properly to an allegation in having removed the priest."

Laplante, who is originally from Lewiston, was ordained in 1957. According to the diocese, he first served at St. Ignatius Church in Northeast Harbor in 1957 and later that year served at St. Charles Church in Brunswick. From 1959 to 1967 he served at St. Theresa Parish, Mexico. He then worked for the diocese as associate director of religious education from 1967 to 1972.

Laplante then served at St. Matthew Parish in Hampden until 1978, when he became pastor at St. Margaret Parish in Old Orchard Beach. In 1983, he was named pastor of St. Matthew, Limerick, and in 1989 he became pastor of St. Andre Parish, Biddeford, until he was assigned to Kennebunk in 1995.


See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.

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"Preacher" Bilked Investors Out of Millions


A Chicago-area man who used his religious ties with pastors and fellow church members to lure them into a web that snared 144 victims in nine states with promises of big investment returns has pleaded guilty to numerous felonies and has been sentenced to serve 7.5 years in prison.

James E. Upshaw of Oak Brook has pleaded guilty to the charges against him. Although some of the charges are consolidated in the plea, Upshaw originally was indicted on four counts of theft of over $100,000, a Class One Felony; six counts of theft of over $10,000, a Class Two Felony; and 16 counts of securities fraud, a Class Three Felony, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said.

Upshaw's victims included a destitute woman who took her last dollars and won $812,000 at a casino only to be taken in by the con artist, a woman represented by famed lawyer Johnnie Cochran who won a medical malpractice settlement and a pastor who invested church funds. Several of Upshaw's victims were older than 60.

Holding himself out as a preacher, praying during his presentations and implying that his investment decisions were communicated to him by God, Upshaw duped his victims into "investing" $6.5 million with him between 2001 and 2004.

Upshaw paid out approximately $4.5 of the $6.5 million to investors as purported returns on their investments, and in some instances, as a return of principal. He used the remaining $2 million to run his business, pay himself and his wife, make a down payment on a $1 million house in Oak Brook and pay other debts.

It appears from thousands of records that only about $80,000 of the $6.5 million actually was invested.

All the investors' funds were deposited in Illinois banks. Upshaw managed to pay money to early investors by using money that came in from new investors, a classic pyramid scheme. However, his failure to invest the money and his lavish lifestyle eventually caught up with him and his checks to investors started bouncing.

Known as an "affinity fraud," in which a criminal or con artist convinces people to trust him because they share a common religious or ethnic background, Upshaw not only hit Chicago-area churches but made numerous presentations across the country to preach his special brand of investment gospel.

"James Upshaw used his charisma, charm and seeming trustworthiness to bilk nearly 150 people to hand over their hard-earned money and savings," Madigan said. "This crime is especially heinous because people truly believed he was looking out for their best interests. In fact, the only interest he was looking out for was his own."

Madigan said Upshaw operated a company called Upshaw and Associates, LLC, located in Westchester. The business provided tax return preparation and consultation services, and after 2001, investment advice.

Upshaw would pitch one of several purported investment vehicles to unwitting victims, including investments in commodities, commercial paper and silver and gold. He sold a monthly program, a quarterly program and a two-year program as well as a money market plan.

The amount of interest earned from a particular program was different for different investors depending on how much they invested, how they wanted the interest paid and how strapped Upshaw was for money.

Madigan's office separated the charges into two different indictments because one of the cases involved Upshaw promising to represent a victim in a tax matter she was involved in with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which was different from his other crimes.

In that case, Upshaw not only failed to provide the woman with the promised representation, but he also stole the money she gave him to pay the IRS, Madigan said.

While Madigan's office is seeking restitution for investors, at this time, there are no known assets with which to repay victims roughly $3 million they are owed.

In a civil case last year, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) seized Upshaw's home and other assets.

"A man who once had millions of other people's money now has about $700 in a bank account," Madigan said. "This is a heartbreaking, cautionary tale for potential investors to very carefully check out whom they trust their money with, no matter how that person presents himself."


See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.

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GI gets 54-year sentence for child molestation


WIESBADEN, Germany — A soldier assigned to the 1st Cavalry Regiment was sentenced to 54 years in prison for molesting a child under 16 at a general court-martial that ended Friday.

Spc. Jesse L. Brandon Jr., a member of Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 1st Squadron, also was stripped of all pay and benefits, reduced in rank to E-1 and given a dishonorable discharge, according to a news release by the 1st Armored Division public affairs office.

Brandon, 23, pleaded guilty to the charge, according to the news release.

Judge (Col.) Denise Lind presided in the case, which was heard by a panel of four officers and five enlisted soldiers. The sentence was the maximum allowable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Maj. Gen. Fred D. Robinson, 1st AD commander and convening authority for the case, will now review the decision.


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Saturday, December 03, 2005

 

Racial profiling feared at Wal-Mart


Via The General:

TAMPA, Fla. - GAF Materials Corp. is handing out gift cards from Target as a reward to select employees this holiday season. That's because Wal-Mart, the discount store that held the business for years, last week called sheriff's deputies to apprehend a GAF manager on a bogus bad check rap while he was trying to buy this year's gift card supply.

"I keep going over and over the incident in my mind," said Reginald Pitts, the 34-year-old human resources manager for the roof material manufacturer's Tampa distribution center. "I cannot come up with any possible reason why I was treated like this except that I am black."

Wal-Mart has launched its own internal investigation of the incident, which store officials concede upfront "was handled very poorly."

"We've apologized to Mr. Pitts and are trying to find out exactly what happened so it does not happen again," said Sharon Weber, spokeswoman for the chain, based in Bentonville, Ark. "We do not tolerate racial discrimination or racial profiling at Wal-Mart."

GAF has been spending about $50,000 a year on gift cards at the Wal-Mart Supercenter at 11110 Causeway Blvd. in Brandon. For years GAF sent a white, female administrator to buy them without incident. This time, when she was on vacation the day before Thanksgiving, Pitts did the job himself. He phoned in the order for 520 cards, got the accounting department to issue Wal-Mart a $13,600 check and then encountered a royal hassle trying to exchange it for gift cards at the store.

"For a while there I thought I was going to prison," he said. "It was a totally humiliating experience."

For about two hours, store managers stalled on accepting the check for the already-printed gift cards, while Pitts stood waiting by the customer service desk. He had handed over his GAF business card, his driver's license and the toll-free numbers to GAF's bank. His accounting supervisor assured them over the phone that GAF, the nation's biggest roofing systems maker with revenues of $1.6-billion in 2004, was good for the check.

Two African-American Wal-Mart clerks watching all this from nearby told Pitts that several similarly sized transactions were made for other companies that day without delay, Pitts said. They suggested to Pitts that he was subjected to all the extra scrutiny by their bosses because he is black.

The thought made him physically ill.

Dressed in khaki pants and a blue button-down-collar dress shirt, Pitts finally got upset over the lengthy wait. He asked for the check back so he could go to another store. But store managers, who had kept huddled in a nearby office during most of his two-hour ordeal, refused to return it. The only explanation he got was that the store was having trouble "verifying" the check or who Pitts was.

Later, two Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies appeared. One grabbed Pitts by the arm. He objected to the rough handling and asked if he was being arrested.

"We need to talk with you about this forged check that you brought in here," Pitts recalled deputy Bryan Wells saying. Later Wells explained the reason for the firm arm grab: "Well, Wal-Mart called us and reported to us that you committed a felony, and that's the way we approach felons," Pitts recalled.

Within 19 minutes deputies reviewed the evidence, determined there was no grounds for a criminal charge and learned Wal-Mart would not press the issue further. Wells handed the check to Pitts.

"Our deputies didn't even see enough (of a case) to write a report," said Lt. Carmen Rivas, the shift commander. "We responded only because Wal-Mart called in a bad check report."

To road deputies, the dispatch code means a possible felony.

Wal-Mart store manager Mark Cornett, who could not be reached for comment Thursday, told Pitts that he only "did what he had to do" before saying "have a great day, sir," according to Pitts.

Pitts was so shaken that he called his boss, Dennis Branch, a regional vice president for GAF in Savannah, Ga. Branch called Cornett and confirmed Pitts' version of the story.

"I was appalled," Branch said. "He wouldn't answer questions like, "Do you call the sheriff every time you cannot verify a check?' He got very defiant. He would not apologize and eventually hung up on me. Reggie had given them the names of several GAF VPs who could vouch for him. All they did was call the GAF guard house number they found in the phone book," which was not answered.

Wal-Mart said it has opened its own investigation of the matter after Pitts called Wal-Mart's complaint line and GAF, based in Wayne, N.J., and a closely-held unit of G-I Holdings Inc., lodged a complaint. GAF, which has 26 plants around the country, employs about 125 people in Tampa.

"We are very concerned about the way Mr. Pitts was treated by Wal-Mart," said Patricia Kim, GAF vice president of employment and labor. "We are awaiting Wal-Mart's response."

Wal-Mart's critics were not surprised. Wal-Mart, like many large retail chains, has been confronted by employment and promotion discrimination suits. In Boston, one suit claims Wal-Mart engaged in a form of racial profiling to prevent shoplifting.

"There has been a string of news reports and lawsuits around the country alleging discrimination and racial profiling in Wal-Mart stores over the past several years," said Paul Blank, director of WakeUpWalMart.com, a group backed by the United Commercial and Food Workers union that launched a campaign against the nonunion retailer in April. "Only time will tell if it's by policy or by practice."

So far, four Wal-Mart officials, including a regional vice president of operations at corporate headquarters in Bentonville, have called Pitts and apologized for the incident. But no one from the store did. And nobody from the company has offered an explanation of what happened.

"They have it all on tape someplace. I have been trying to find some reasonable explanation why they did this to me other than something racial," Pitts said. "So far they have not provided one."


See also our collection of cultural-defining Wal-Mart moments.

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Friday, December 02, 2005

 

Pastor of Euless church faces sex charge



Thanks to Cowtown for this:

EULESS, Texas - A pastor who was also a police volunteer was arrested Thursday after authorities say he molested a 21-year-old "immature" man and later was recorded offering to perform more sex acts on him.

The Rev. James Leonard Finley, 68, was stopped by Euless patrol officers just a few blocks from the man's apartment in north Euless, police said.

Finley, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church of Euless, was released from the Euless City Jail on Thursday evening after posting $1,000 bail. He is accused of public lewdness by molesting the man Thursday.

"He had befriended the kid," Euless Detective Kimberly Althouse said. "He had even helped his family pay some bills."

Police said the encounter occurred in the Euless apartment the man shares with his mother. In addition to Finley's pastoral duties, he has also been active in the city's citizens patrol and is on a list of pastors called to help to console people involved in tragic events, police said.

Upon hearing of Finley's arrest, Associate Pastor Beverly Springer said she couldn't answer questions about the church or the pastor, except to say that First United Methodist Church of Euless has 1,385 names on its membership roster.

"I have to go to the jail and find out what's going on," Springer said.

Finley will not be in the pulpit Sunday to oversee a scheduled youth musical, said Connally Dugger, district superintendent for the Mid Cities District of the Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church. Springer will be in charge until Finley meets with Bishop Ben Chamness next week to discuss the situation, Dugger said.

"The bishop's out of town," Dugger said. "I've informed him of what I know, and he said we'll figure things out when he gets back."

Finley has ministered at First United Methodist Church of Euless for the past four years and has spent most of his career ministering across Texas, Dugger said.

"I'm surprised," he said. "I spoke with him this evening, and he told me about being arrested and about the charge. But that's it. The details are troubling."

A woman at Finley's home declined to comment.

Authorities said they were investigating the possibility of other victims.

"The investigation is not over," Althouse said.

During questioning, police said, Finley denied wrongdoing, but he asked for a lawyer when police played the telephone recording.

Police said the man and Finley met in July at a Euless store where the man worked, police said. Generally, the Star-Telegram does not identify people who report being victims of a sexual assault.

Althouse described the man as "immature" and who trusted the pastor.

"He had talked to the pastor about a Web site he had created," Althouse said. "The pastor visited with the man every time he went to the store. At one point, the pastor asked for the man's telephone number."

The man thought that was odd, but he believed that it was fine because it was a pastor, Althouse said.

"The pastor later told him that he loved him," Althouse said. "Again, the man didn't think much of it because it was coming from a pastor."

Their relationship reached another level on Thursday morning, police said.

His mother was not home, the man told police, when the pastor came to his Euless apartment, bringing him breakfast. At some point, the pastor began talking about having sexual experiences, he said.

Finley is accused of fondling the man, who pleaded for him to stop, police said.

The pastor left the man crying in the apartment after the brief encounter, police said.

The young man called police and was taken to the station to discuss what happened. "He was quite upset," Althouse said.

While at the police station, officials asked the man to telephone the pastor and ask him about what he had done, authorities said. In a brief recorded conversation, the pastor offered to perform more sex acts on the Euless man because he wanted to be the first, police said.

After aiding police, the man was driven back to his Euless apartment, Althouse said.

Within minutes, the man called police to report that the pastor was at his apartment, trying again to get inside his home, Althouse said.

Finley was gone when officers arrived, but he was stopped a few blocks away, Althouse said.

Finley could be is expected to be charged with public lewdness, in the next few days, a Class A misdemeanor. If convicted, he faces a maximum of a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

Finley has been ministering for 43 years, according to a newsletter posted on the church's Web site. He is the senior pastor, with Springer assisting.

First United Methodist Church of Euless is located at 106 N. Main St.


See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.

Return to Bobo's World's homepage.

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Thursday, December 01, 2005

 

Former priest faces sex charges


Fort Collins, Colorado - The sexual abuse scandal that has engulfed the Catholic Church has surfaced in Fort Collins, with a former priest facing charges of sexually assaulting children.

Former Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton parish priest Timothy Joseph Evans, 43, was advised Wednesday afternoon in Larimer County Court that he is charged with two counts of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust and one count of contributing to the delinquency of minor, all felonies, according to court documents.

The Fort Collins police department and the Larimer County District Attorney's Office, citing a gag order placed on the case Wednesday by County Court Judge Peter Schoon, have declined to confirm that Evans is a former priest or discuss where he was arrested or the amount of his bond. A call to the Larimer County Detention Center revealed that Evans was not booked into the jail. District Court Judge Jolene Blair ordered the file sealed on Nov. 22, the day an arrest warrant for Evans was requested by police.

However, a public records search by the Fort Collins Coloradoan showed Evans lived in a residence owned by the church and that an investigation into the allegations began in 2004. Records also indicate that the alleged crimes would have been committed while Evans was serving at the church. However, it is not known if those allegations involve children from the church.

Evans served at the parish for at least four years, leaving in 2002, according to a Coloradoan archive search. Evans was ordained in 1993 and removed from parish ministry in 2002, according to a statement from Francis Maier, chancellor for the Archdiocese of Denver.

In 2003, the archdiocese removed Evans’ “priestly faculties,” which removed him from active ministry, according to Jeanette DeMalo, director of communications for the Archdiocese.

Maier’s statement said the diocese is “deeply concerned” about the charges and urged full cooperation by anyone who might have information about the case.

Deacon Jim Devlin, of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, said he hadn’t spoken to Evans since Evans left the church in 2002 but was shocked when he learned of the charges.

“It’s extremely out of character for the Father Tim, I know,” he said.
The Rev. Larry Christensen, the current pastor at the church, said he had no comment about the charges.

Evans, who remains free on bond, is scheduled to make his first appearance in District Court at 8:30 a.m. Dec. 20.

In August, Fort Collins resident Greg Roberts, 52, filed a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Denver for sexual abuse he said he had suffered at the hands of a priest 40 years ago. Roberts alleges he was sexually abused by Harold Robert White from 1965 to 1967 while White was a priest at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Sterling.

At least 16 people have come forward with allegations that White, who was ordained in 1960, molested them during his service in parishes across Colorado, including in Loveland and Sterling. White was removed from the priesthood in 2004, although details have not been made available.


See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.

Return to Bobo's World's homepage.

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Pastor arrested in second rape case


Syracuse, New York - A Syracuse pastor is back in jail after being charged with rape for the second time.

Jaree Jones, 30, of 148 Camp Ave., is accused of raping a teenage girl in Connecticut in 2000. He is to be arraigned today in Syracuse City Court.

Jones, pastor of the Refuge Temple of Syracuse, on South Avenue, was charged Wednesday with two felonies - sexual assault and risk of injury to a minor - based on a warrant out of Waterbury, Conn.

He had been charged Nov. 9 with second-degree rape and second-degree criminal sexual act after a 15-year-old Syracuse girl told police he raped her. The girl said Jones assaulted her several times between May 2004 and March 2005 at his home and church, where the girl's family attends services.

Syracuse police Sgt. Tom Connellan said a second victim came forward this week after seeing reports of Jones' arrest on the Internet. Shortly after the alleged rape, in 2000, the girl reported it to police and a warrant was issued for Jones' arrest. She was younger than 16 at the time. She called police again this week after seeing stories about Jones' Syracuse arrest.

"The victim had done some type of Internet search on Jones' name, saw that he had been arrested and contacted Waterbury police," Connellan said.

Waterbury police contacted Syracuse police, who arrested Jones at his home.

Connellan said the Connecticut warrant against Jones had been pending for several years, but police there never entered it into a national computer system. That's why Syracuse police found no record of it when they first arrested Jones.


See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.

Return to Bobo's World's homepage.

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Murrells Inlet minister charged with child molestation


Georgetown, Wisconsin - A former Murrells Inlet minister is out on bail after being charged with molesting a member of his youth group after a church field trip.

Thirty-six-year-old Troy Taylor was surrounded by his mother, pastor and other supporters during the brief hearing Wednesday.

The boy was 11 at the time of the alleged incident. He and his parents also attended the hearing.

Magistrate Elaine Elliott said she set bond because Taylor has not been convicted of previous charges.

Taylor must have no contact with the boy or his family, but he is not barred from having contact with children.

Taylor was charged Tuesday with second-degree criminal sexual misconduct with a minor.


See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.

Return to Bobo's World's homepage.

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