Nearly $9 million stolen
ROME – A small-town preacher was sentenced to 171/2 years in prison Thursday for stealing nearly $9 million from some 1,600 black churches across the country by promising them big returns on small investments.
Abraham Kennard also was ordered to pay nearly $8 million in restitution, pay almost $600,000 in back taxes and perform 120 hours of community service upon his release from prison.
Kennard, 46, of Wildwood was found guilty by a federal jury in February on 116 counts, including fraud and evasion. Prosecutors said he ran a pyramid scheme that took advantage of the tight network of black preachers to which he belonged.
Kennard, who was talkative while representing himself during his three-week trial, made no statement at his sentencing. He could have received up to 33 years in prison.
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“These people lost everything they had. Some even lost their church. The court cannot ignore that,” U.S. District Judge Harold L. Murphy told Kennard as his sentence was handed down.
Prosecutors said Kennard claimed his company was developing Christian resorts around the country. He told preachers that for a fee of a few thousand dollars, their churches could be “members” of his company. In return, he promised that in time the churches would get a grant or a forgivable loan of up to $500,000.
The scheme spread as the trusting ministers told their friends, relatives and fellow pastors. Churches in 41 states received “grants” from Kennard totaling more than $1 billion, prosecutors said.
“This was a disturbing criminal scheme that preyed on trusting members of the faith community,” Assistant U.S. Attorney David McClernan said.