Missing money: Warrant out for pastor

Rev. Arthur Pearson allegedly embezzled thousands

NBC News 8, Michigan/January 1, 2012

Grand Rapids, Michigan -- Kent County Prosecutors authorized a warrant for the pastor of Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church in Grand Rapids, accusing him of embezzling between $50,000 and $100,000 from the church.

Prosecutors say the charges against Rev. Arthur Pearson, Sr., 38, may be upgraded as they believe there may be upwards of $200,000 missing in church funds. They say they're also investigating whether or not others were involved.

The church filed a civil lawsuit against Pearson on Dec. 30 in the 17th Circuit Court, records show.

The issue has divided church members, with many of them standing behind the pastor -- even some of whom believe he embezzled the money.

"We all make mistakes. He made a mistake," said longtime member Connie McGee. "He did wrong. I don't uphold his wrong, but I am a person to forgive."

Prosecutors and Grand Rapids police have been monitoring the probe of the missing funds for weeks and a warrant was authorized late last week.

The disagreement has become tense.

On Sunday, Grand Rapids police officers were called to the church at 510 Franklin Street SE after the morning worship service because some members refused to leave the church and wanted to meet to discuss the situation involving the pastor, police said.

"He has destroyed our church in 3 and a half years," said Donna Martin, 58, who said she has been a member since she was 10 years old. "He's been misusing funds ever since he's been here."

Pearson's brother-in-law, Jerry Ashford, said he is an attorney and intends to defend Pearson should a civil lawsuit emerge. He is also a member of Pilgrim Rest who believes the case should not be charged criminally.

"There's no evidence," Ashford said. "I believe that he has a contract that allows him housing expenses, business expenses, and a salary and a bonus."

Ashford says he also intends to file a motion against an order barring Pearson from church property.

While it appeared that people were inside of Pearson's Kentwood home, no one answered the door when 24 Hour News 8 stopped by to seek comment.

Pearson's mother Zelda Ford made a statement outside of the church Sunday.

"He didn't take no money," Ford said. "This is hurting Pastor. Pastor loves all of his members."

Many of the church's leaders declined to comment on the investigation but Veruynca Williams, who directs the church's children's ministries, said she's looking forward to the situation's resolution.

"I would like to see us unified and being about our Father's business which is evangelism and discipleship. It's building the kingdom of God," she said without saying whether or not she supported Pearson. She said she prays for God's will to be done "whatever the outcome may be."

Some of Pearson's supporters say they're frustrated that church leaders sought out a criminal investigation into the matter against what they said was the will of the majority of the church members.

Supporters cited a recent vote the church held in which they decided to keep the pastor on board.

But some members questioned the validity of the vote, citing the fact that young children were allowed to participate in the voting process.

"There were children in the vote," Ashford said. "But when you win the vote 279 to 133, the children aren't making a difference."

While a warrant has been issued, police have not arrested Pearson. Sources say he is expected to turn himself in early this week.

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