Kent County, Michigan - Even as a Kent County Circuit Court judge learned a long-time Kentwood area pastor embezzled more than $300,000-about two and a half times the amount first thought-church members came out in full force Tuesday, Dec. 11, to support their former leader at his sentencing.
"We just know that God is faithful," said Debbie Mills, who has attended Heritage Baptist Church for 20 of the nearly 26 years Etheridge Henry Moore served as pastor. "He loves us no matter what."
Moore was sentenced to 1 to 20 years in prison, but will be recommended for a boot camp program that could allow him to be back to work at a Holland area car dealership within six months.
Police began investigating the case in July.
The situation, Circuit Judge Donald Johnston said, was rather unique. Johnston told church members he had likely spent more time on Moore's case than "any others I've dealt with all year long."
Moore turned himself in to church leadership and asked they contact police about his actions. Church members eventually submitted several letters displaying their hope and support for Moore's future, Johnston said.
But as a judge, Johnston's job was different than that of a pastor, he said. He had to focus on the crime at hand.
Though the amount of money involved was first thought to be around $113,000, Johnston was told last week the actual embezzlement likely totaled about $206,000. This week, he learned from the church board director that losses totaled at least $316,000.
Speaking of his job as a judge, he said, "We're not in the forgiveness business. We're in the adjudication business."
Johnston hoped the sentence would allow Moore to return to work soon-where he reportedly earned "salesman of the month" status recently-to begin paying restitution.
Moore's wife wiped away tears as she sat in the courtroom gallery, surrounded by church members.
As Moore addressed the court, he spoke to her in an emotional moment, acknowledging "I'm not the husband and father" others believed him to be.
"The church loved and trusted me for nearly 26 years and I took advantage of that trust," he said. "I have embarrassed the cause of Christ."
"I plead for mercy today," he said.
Moore must pay $320,000 in restitution. That will cover an estimated $316,000 loss and about $4,000 the church spent on accounting services to determine losses.