Fraud is alleged at church

Feb. 01, 2014 @ 05:02 AM

The Lee County Sheriff’s Department has begun an investigation in response to alleged embezzlement after a complaint was filed this week by officials at Grace Chapel Church.

The complaint alleges two specific fraud charges, one involving embezzlement and the other obtaining money/property by false pretenses. According to the complaint, the amount of money taken from the church was estimated as being up to $200,000. The complaint alleges the embezzlement took place “from 2007 to (the) present.”

Grace Chapel, located at 2601 Jefferson Davis Highway, is one of Sanford’s largest churches. The church’s affiliated ministries include Grace Christian School and Grace Christian Child Development Center.

Bill Carver Jr., the headmaster of the school who’s been serving as operations director at the church since November, made the complaint to the sheriff’s department on Thursday, although the date of the incident is listed as Oct. 30, 2013. On Friday, Carver said his personal knowledge of the details about a possible embezzlement was limited, and that the official investigation “has just started.” Carver said he feels it is best not to comment about the circumstances since the matter is now under active investigation.

The incident report provided by the sheriff’s department doesn’t list any individual names in connection with the investigation, and Sheriff Tracy Carter said Friday that his department was just beginning its work on the complaint.

“It’s a possible embezzlement case going back several years, and we’re going to be investigating it,” he said.

Back in November, Carver and current interim pastor Joel Murr described in a story in The Herald some of the challenges faced by the church in the wake of the departure of long-time pastor Rudy Holland. Holland said in the same Nov. 9 story he resigned during Grace’s worship service on Nov. 3 after 15 years at the church, retiring from the ministry because “it was time for the church and me to make a change.”

Murr told The Herald the church had struggled financially following fire in 2004 that destroyed the sanctuary and the economic downturn that began in 2007.

“We projected a certain amount of growth as far as numerically, people, which also projects you bring in more with tithes and offerings,” Murr said. “Unfortunately, in 2007, when we came into this building, ... the economy tanked.” Murr further described the church’s financial problems as “not something that has happened this month, or this year. It’s something that, we found out, thousands and thousands of churches and businesses have gone through — the same type of problems.”