Columbia pastor charged with stealing $253,000 from church

WISTV-10 News, South Carolina/May 4, 2011

Columbia, South Carolina - A former pastor of Elmwood Avenue Church of God is charged with stealing $253,827 in church donations over a 10-year-period, according to Columbia police.

Investigators arrested 53-year-old Charles Edward Ledford on Tuesday and charged him with multiple counts of breach of trust with fraudulent intent.

Police opened the investigation in April after the church's new pastor, Byron E. Powers, told police that "several members of the church complained" early this year about their personal donation records from 2010 not matching the church's records, according to the report.

Powers started investigating the church's bank accounts, and discovered a bank account the church was not aware of named "CHURCH OF GOD MINISTRY ACCOUNT." According to the report, $253,827.46 had been deposited and withdrawn through the hidden account since it was opened in 2001.

Powers said a post office box was listen as the church's address. Two names had signatory power over the accounts, according to investigators. Those names were Charles Ledford and the church treasurer, John Hyatt.

Hyatt told investigators that his signature on the account's records "is a forgery," and told police, "he never had any knowledge of the account." The report shows the deposits stopped in November 2010, after Ledford left the church in November 2010. The report also states that the church's endorsement stamp used on the hidden account was not a match for the church's official stamp, according to the report.

Powers told investigators that a senior bishop confronted Ledford about the hidden account and the "stolen money," "and the suspect confessed to him," according to the police report. Investigators seized "several folders of church financial records" after Powers filed the complaint with officers on April 4.

Investigators arrested Ledford Tuesday morning and booked him into the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center. A judge set Ledford's bond at $100,000 Tuesday afternoon and released him on his word that he'll show for his court dates.

Ledford declined to comment when reached by phone at his Simpsonville home Wednesday. Ledford told WIS, "You'll have to talk to my attorney. I'm sorry, I hope you understand." When asked if Ledford plans to take his charges before a jury, the former pastor said his attorney has not made that decision yet.

In a statement sent to WIS via email on Thursday, a spokesperson for the church wrote, "The police report is public record. The senior pastor and leadership of Elmwood Avenue Church of God have been dealing with this issue prudently both ecclesiastically and legally... Our prayers are with Mr. Ledford and his family."

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