A slick con job had some Black congregations coughing up hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to prosecutors.
Peter Nickles, attorney general for the District of Columbia, sued several people and companies, saying that they finagled African-American churchgoers in at least 50 houses of worship across the United States – including in D.C., Maryland, Michigan, Wisconsin, Texas, California – out of money.
“While it is not surprising that in tough economic times we see an increase in financial scams, what is unconscionable is that these Defendants allegedly targeted their scheme at religious congregations — groups whose funds are often used to feed the poor, assist people with housing, and otherwise benefit those in need in their community,” Nickles said. “The community is outraged at this egregious behavior, and I intend to aggressively pursue recovery on behalf of these congregations, many of which have been severely impacted by this scam.”
According to the lawsuit, the defendants convinced several congregations that they could have “free” computer kiosks in their church lobbies to provide community and church information. Some of the churches were even told that they could get advertising dollars. In reality, they were unwittingly duped into signing long-term leasing agreements for the equipment totaling $50,000 or more. They were never told that the computer equipment – some of which didn’t work very well – was only worth a few grand.
The defendants are Television Broadcasting Online, Inc., Washington, D.C.; Urban Interfaith Network, Inc., Oxon Hill, Md.; Michael Morris, Willie Perkins, and several national leasing companies, including United Leasing Associates of America, Brookfield, Wis.; Balboa Capital, Irvine, Calif.; and Chesapeake Industrial Leasing, Baltimore.