A local pastor was charged in federal court Wednesday in the embezzlement of almost a million dollars from a community center his church built.
Rev. Willard Jones, a pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church, faces three counts of wire fraud and one count of tax fraud.
FOX23 learned a community center the church built was the vision of Jones. He helped design it and raised funds to build it.
The U.S. attorney said he was also stealing a lot of those funds and living an expensive life, instead of serving this high-poverty area.
FOX23 was there when Jones broke ground on the community center and when it opened in September 2011.
U.S. Attorney Danny Williams said the executive board of the community center did an internal audit in 2013 when Jones said there weren’t enough operating funds.
“About $500,000 was missing. Reverend Jones would not cooperate with that audit, and subsequently the FBI was contacted,” said Williams.
An investigation by the FBI found jones had taken more than $933,000 in all.
“When in fact, he was spending the stolen funds on hotels, restaurants, gambling at casinos, liquor, automobiles and luxury items including a Rolex watch and a monogrammed mink fur coat with matching hat and gloves,” said Williams.
According to court documents, he also used money to pay for work on his house.
“Based on our investigation, there are no funds left,” said Williams.
IRS Special Agent Damon Rowe told FOX23 Jones also lied on his taxes and did not report close to $400,000.
“Our agents are committed to making sure that we follow the money to the end, and we’ll leave no stone unturned,” said Rowe.
Jones stepped down from his post as executive director of the community center, but remains pastor at Cornerstone Baptist Church.
Williams said the crimes he’s accused of committing against the community center affect a lot more people.
“Mr. Jones failed to honor the trust of the community, which needed revitalization,” said Williams.
Jones is scheduled for his first appearance in court next Friday.