Church Claims Pastor Swiped $629,000

           FAIRFIELD, Calif. (CN) – A pastor swiped $629,000 from a church construction project and then moved on – and it wasn’t the first time, his former parishioners claim in court.
     Rescue Mission Church of God in Christ of Vallejo sued the church’s parent corporations and the Rev. Pastor Yaahn G. Hunter on Monday in Solano County Court.
     Hunter became pastor in 2008, and the congregation contributed $1,019,000 in the next six years to remodel the church and put in a parking lot.
     Though Church of God in Christ are traditionally overseen by a board of trustees chosen from the congregation, Hunter “refused to authorize a board of trustees and none was established despite numerous requests by congregation members to do so,” the church says in the lawsuit.
     Hunter took control of all the church’s bank accounts and financial records and refused to share any of them with the congregation, despite requests for them, according to the complaint – nor did he show them records on the fund raising.
     “From time to time Hunter would make oral reports to the congregation or various congregation members that a lot of money was being spent on the church remodel/parking lot construction project, it was moving forward and that the City of Vallejo was charging extremely high fees for the project,” the complaint states.
     Hunter announced in February 2014 that he was leaving to form a new church, “and he did leave shortly after that,” the church says.
     The congregation finally formed a board of trustees who discovered, to their surprise, that “no money was ever paid to the City of Vallejo for fees and permits or for anything regarding the remodel/reconstruction project, and that virtually nothing had been done to further those projects.”
     Worse, the church claims, an audit showed that despite the $1,019,000 in deposits, “there was almost nothing remaining in the church bank accounts,” and that “Hunter paid to himself or members of his family at least $629,000.”
     “Right now we’re not sure exactly how much money was taken until we really get it audited,” the church’s attorney, John Coyle, told Courthouse News.
     The lawsuit claims that the corporate defendants, including the church’s Northern California bishop, “knew or should have known of Hunter’s actions as he had previously engaged in similar activity at [at] least one other NCCOGIC church but failed to inform plaintiff or its congregation of Hunter’s past actions.”
     Defendants include The Church of God in Christ Inc., Northern California First Jurisdiction of the Church of God in Christ, and Albert Galbrath as Bishop of the Northern California First Jurisdiction.
     Church of God in Christ spokesman Robert Coleman declined to comment.
     Hunter did not respond to requests for comment.
     According to online sources, Hunter is now, or until recently was, working at nonparty New Faith Cathedral Church of God in Christ in Vallejo, which did not return voicemail and e-mail messages.
     Bishop Galbrath could not be reached for comment.
     The church seeks $15 million in punitive damages for breach of fiduciary duty, concealment and failure to warn.

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