LOS ANGELES (CN) – A federal grand jury in Los Angeles indicted a former church chairman for allegedly stealing more than $11 million from the place of worship to buy a $2 million home and a membership to an exclusive dining club at Disneyland, among other purchases.
Charles Thomas Sebesta, 54, began working for the Fifth Church of Christ Scientist as a facilities manager in 2001, but by 2005 he had served as a chairman with access to church finances, according to the 17-page grand jury indictment from October 2018, which was unsealed Monday, the Justice Department announced.
Beginning in 2006, Sebesta made the church cut checks and make other payments to fictitious companies he created, which were either in his own name or in the names of his family members, according to the indictment.
Sebesta also allegedly forged a church member’s signature on several checks drawn against the church’s bank accounts and oversaw the sale of property in Hollywood owned by the church. That property sold for $12.8 million, according to prosecutors, who say Sebesta drained most of that money for his own personal use, buying a $2 million home with cashier’s checks drawn from church bank accounts.
He falsely recorded purchases for himself as “donations” in church ledgers and environmental remediation, while other payments were made to his fictitious companies so they could appear legitimate, according to the indictment.
In 2009 and 2010, Sebesta wired $1.86 million and nearly $310,000 of church funds to his own personal tax accounts to force overpayment refunds to himself from the U.S. Treasury and the California Franchise Tax Board.
In 2013, Sebesta allegedly stole the royalty rights of a song donated to the church by the estate of a former church member and transferred to bank accounts maintained by his wife and son.
Prosecutors say Sebesta bought a membership to Disneyland’s exclusive Club 33 dining lounge, an exclusive club that boasts five-figure initiation fees and similarly steep annual dues. Sebesta allegedly hosted high-profile entertainment companies, professional sports teams and their employees.
Sebesta is charged with six counts of wire fraud, five counts of bank fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft. If convicted of all charges, he would face a maximum sentence of 250 years in federal prison, according to the Justice Department.
The Fifth Church of Christ Scientist did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
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