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Milwaukee school leader faces federal charges of fraud, theft

The pastor of a Milwaukee church who also ran a private choice school has been accused of stealing federal funds for the school for his own personal use. He was indicted last week by a grand jury on four counts of theft of federal funds and one count of wire fraud. The federal charges could result in a 60-year prison sentence if he's convicted.

According to the U.S. Justice Department, the Departments of Education and Agriculture gave the school more than $100,000 every year in federal funding. The indictment says the pastor, who was president and chief administrator of the school, used $37,000 of those funds for a down payment on apartment buildings, $70,000 on their mortgage payments, and an unspecified amount to lease Cadillacs for him, his wife and his mother. He's also accused of loaning school employees money to buy cars for him and needlessly leasing space at the church.

The pastor was sued last year by teachers who said they didn't receive their salaries or health insurance benefits. Their lawsuit seeks unpaid wages of more than $36,000, plus a 50 percent increase of those wages and health insurance costs, which the teachers say they had to pay themselves after the church prematurely cut off their benefits.

Meanwhile, the federal indictment says the pastor paid himself a salary of more than $90,000, as well as the salaries of two women who worked at the school, though none of the three spent much time at the school, it says.

The pastor was investigated by the FBI and is being prosecuted by the U.S. attorney's office. His attorney says the pastor, who's expected to enter a plea this month in Milwaukee County Circuit Court, insists he is innocent of the charges.

Charges of fraud, theft and other so-called white collar crimes are extremely serious and tend to be pursued very aggressively by prosecutors. The pastor will need a rock-solid defense to avoid the lengthy prison sentence and fines that a federal conviction would carry.

Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Leader of choice school indicted on fraud, theft charges," John Diedrich, Feb. 29, 2012

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