SBI takes over embezzlement investigation

Mar. 14, 2014 @ 05:01 AM

An embezzlement investigation at one of Lee County’s largest churches has been handed off to the State Bureau of Investigation.

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office began an investigation in late January after Grace Chapel Church officials reported an embezzlement of up to $200,000 from church coffers. Lee County Sheriff Tracy Carter said due to “extenuating circumstances,” he’s asked the SBI to take over the investigation.

“The case is moving forward, however the decision was made to contact the SBI and turn the case over to them,” Carter said. “And that is where it’s at now, and that is all I can say at this point.”

Grace Christian School Headmaster Bill Carver Jr., who has been serving as operations director of the church since November, said it was the sheriff’s decision to turn the case over, and that he was waiting to see the results from the investigation.

Grace Chapel Church, located at 2601 Jefferson Davis Highway, has two primary affiliated ministries, Grace Christian School and the Grace Christian Child Development Center.

Carver made the complaint to the sheriff’s office on Jan. 30; however, the date of the incident is listed as Oct. 30.

In November, Carver and interim pastor Joel Murr told The Herald the church had struggled financially since the economic downturn in 2007, which coincided with the construction of the church’s new facility. During the same time period, the church lost two members of its pastoral staff.

Long-time pastor Rudy Holland announced his retirement less than a week after the date of the reported embezzlement.  Holland said in November that it was his decision to retire and it was what was best for the church and his family.

“I just thought it was time for the church and me to make a change,” Holland said in a previous interview. “... I felt it was time for me to step aside.”

Grace Executive Pastor Tim Murr, Joel Murr’s brother, was also “relieved of his duties” as a cost-saving measure.

“A lot of our money is spent on salaries,” Carver said in November. “When you are trying to economize, you have to cut down on some staff. It was just prudent that we ask him to leave, which was not something we wanted to do. After all, here’s a guy who has been here for 14 years, and we love him. It breaks your heart.”

A representative from the SBI did not respond to multiple requests for comment.