Aurora pastor pleads guilty to using fake documents to steal $1.6M in donations

Chicago Tribune/August 01, 2013

By Clifford Ward

The pastor of an Aurora church pleaded guilty Thursday to charges that he used faked financial documents to fleece three supporters out of more than $1.6 million in donations.

Howard Richmond, the pastor of Life Reach Ministries, a church in an Aurora strip mall, pled guilty to operating a continuing financial crimes enterprise and a felony forgery charge, according to DuPage County prosecutors.

He faces up to 14 years in prison.

"Mr. Richmond took advantage of the generosity of others to line his own pockets,” DuPage County State’s Atty. Robert Berlin said.

“He betrayed the trust placed in him as pastor of the church, leveraging his victims’ faith to the tune of more than $1.6 million.”

Richmond, a Naperville resident, was accused of operating a bogus loan scheme to attract financial support from three people, including a member of his church.

The church member entrusted the pastor with $500,000, prosecutors said.

The pastor told the investors that he needed their money to expand the church and that he had the financial means to repay them as well as provide a premium, prosecutors said.

To support his claim, he showed the investors financial forms that indicated the church had millions of dollars in assets, prosecutors said.

But the forms were bogus and Richmond had bribed a bank employee to create the fictitious forms, prosecutors said.

He ran into more trouble while out on bond in 2012, when authorities charged him with deceptive practices.

In that case, Richmond was accused of convincing an acquaintance to write a $114,000 rent check to a realty company that leased the space for the church.

Richmond told the acquaintance that he would deposit money to cover the amount in that person's bank account, but failed to do so, and the check bounced, prosecutors said.

He is due back in court Dec. 9 in front of Judge Blanche Hill Fawell.

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