California Goes After Church Scammers

California Goes After Church Scammers

California attorney general, Kamala Harris, is going after scammers who took advantage of Black churches.

Published March 1, 2011

An electronics scam that defrauded African-American churches around the country out of hundreds of thousands of dollars has finally come to light, and California’s new Black attorney general, Kamala Harris, is making sure its perpetrators pay.

According to a lawsuit filed by Harris on Monday in the Los Angeles Superior Court, two Maryland-based companies—Urban Interfaith Network (UIN) and Television Broadcasting Online (TVBO)—promised 193 black churches in 15 states that they would provide technologically advanced computer kiosks that would connect the churches to high-profile advertisers who would not only pay for the full cost of the kiosks and generate new revenue, but also bring the churches “into the 21st century.”

When the “kiosks” arrived, however, they were normal desktop computers mounted onto cheap wooden podiums, and they very often didn’t work the way they were supposed to, according to the lawsuit. What’s more, once the kiosks were installed, the checks supposedly coming from benevolent companies to pay the leases on the machines began arriving late, if at all, forcing the churches to foot the bill—sometimes to the tune of more than $47,000. When the churches couldn’t afford or refused to pay the leases, Balboa Capital Corporation and United Leasing Associates of America, the leasing companies behind the kiosks scheme, sued the churches for the funds.

It probably won’t surprise you to know that two TVBO and UIN employees named in Harris’ suit, Willie Perkins and Michael Morris, are currently in prison in Michigan for scamming dozens of churches in that state. Two others, however, Wayne and Tanya Wilson, supposedly reside in Rancho Cucamonga, California.

Harris’ lawsuit ultimately seeks more than $800,000 in damages for the 33 Southern California churches victimized by TVBO and UIN, and she hopes it will strike fear into the hearts of other scammers. “Let this be a lesson to others who may look to defraud our community organizations: You will be caught, and you will be held accountable.”

The saddest irony, it would seem, is that venues of faith were penalized for having that faith in their fellow man.


Image:  Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Written by Cord Jefferson


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