A group of New York clergy took more than $1 million from a real estate developer who sought to turn distressed Black churches into lucrative properties, according to settlements with the state’s attorney general.
The settlements show that a bishop, two pastors and a pastor’s wife sought to conceal the kickbacks from congregations that owned the buildings, as well as from state officials. The funds were taken even as the developer, Moujan Vahdat, allegedly failed to live up to promises made to the churches in the purchase agreements. In one case, Vahdat is accused of trying to evict a congregation from the building it once owned.
Two African Methodist Episcopal clergy members have agreed to pay back more than $800,000 to the state of New York, according to the settlements, which were posted on the attorney general’s website last month. Vahdat also has signed a settlement with the attorney general, offering to make good on his company’s promises to the churches or allow them to back out of their deals.
Retired AME bishop Gregory G.M. Ingram, who previously oversaw the church’s First Episcopal District, which covers much of the northeastern United States, agreed to pay back $600,000 in “finder’s fees” he got from the sale of the church properties. The bishop also agreed to sell a Rolex he got as a kickback. Former First Episcopal District presiding elder Melvin Wilson, who worked for Ingram, agreed to pay back $200,000, with an additional $101,075 in restitution suspended.
News of the settlements led the AME Council of Bishops to condemn the actions of their clergy colleagues. That condemnation came after the settlements, which were signed in 2021, were made public in late August, according to the bishops.
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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Bob Smietana