Preacher ordered to repay $848,532

Triangle News & Observer (NC)/November 2, 2005
By Sarah Ovaska

Greenville -- A federal judge ordered a former Greenville preacher convicted of stealing from a Florida widow to start monthly payments after years of dodging repayment, according to federal prosecutors.

The Rev. Jim Whittington, 64, now based in the Atlanta area and affiliated with World Deliverance Crusade, was ordered by U.S. District Judge Malcolm Howard to start paying $5,500 a month towards the $848,532 that he owed. Whittington and four others were convicted in 1992 of stealing from a wheelchair-bound Florida widow.

Whittington was the face of Fountain of Life ministry and raised money through a television show as well as direct-mail fund-raising before his conviction. A flamboyant preacher, he surrounded himself with luxury items such as high-speed boats and a Rolls-Royce.

Howard signed the order Oct. 13 after federal prosecutors accused Whittington of continuing to live a lavish lifestyle after his 1995 release from prison.

In the 10 years since his release, Whittington has repaid less than 2 percent of the $866,032 he was ordered to pay to the estate of Valeria Lust, the Florida widow who has since died.

Whittington said he was a target then and now of federal prosecutors. He does not take a salary from World Deliverance Crusade but instead dedicates his time to preaching in the Caribbean, he said.

He also denied the original theft and said he was convicted at a time when many televangelists were under public scrutiny.

"I still didn't take that woman's money," Whittington said in a telephone interview. "She gave it to the ministry."

Federal prosecutors, however, accuse Whittington of using World Deliverance Crusade to funnel money that he used for his living expenses while avoiding repayment of the stolen money.

"It is extremely disappointing that he has chosen not to pay this restitution when he's spent so much money on himself," said Norman Acker with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

Several cars, furniture, jewelry and a country club membership were paid for by World Deliverance Crusade, according to information presented by prosecutors.

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