Florida Department of Law Enforcement officials said that a pastor of a Pompano Beach-based church, James Edward Smith II, has been arrested on multiple charges for allegedly defrauding his church to support his drug addiction. Smith was the pastor of New Jerusalem Baptist Church, and according to authorities, had fraudulently gained control of the church and its funds, which he used to sustain his drug habit. The investigation into Smith began last April, after complaints from parishioners and church founders.
The investigation discovered that the 49-year-old Smith filed a forged quit claim deed that allowed him to assume complete control of the church property. He then sold the property for $600,000, using the money to purchase drugs. Additionally, Smith is also facing charges from the Broward County Sheriff’s Office for larceny and fraud associated with worthless checks that totaled more than $1,600 and were written on the church’s bank account.
The police officers searched Smith’s house and found heroin, methamphetamine, marijuana, and a stolen firearm. Officials say that Smith is being charged with organized scheme to defraud, fraud, grand theft, criminal use of personal identification information, unlawful filing of false document records against real or personal property, grand theft of a firearm, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and violation of probation. It is not yet known whether Smith has legal representation.
The investigation serves as a reminder that no institution or organization is immune to fraud and embezzlement. This case underscores the importance of transparency and accountability in religious organizations and non-profits, as it protects their members and their interests. While Smith’s case is still ongoing, it highlights the need for vigilance when it comes to the finances of religious institutions and other non-profits.