Preacher Accused Of Selling Church He Never Owned

WTVC, Feb. 19, 2003
Story by John Madewell

Athens, Tennessee detectives say Joe Crawford pulled a fast one on his congregation. After one year at the pulpit, Crawford sold the Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ on Hammerhill Road. Police say Crawford sold the church for 25 thousand dollars without approval. Detectives found him on the run, but not the money.

Joe Crawford’s pictured on an Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ bulletin. But this afternoon, the small ciner block building sits empty on Hammerhill Road with its ownership under investigation. Athens detective Patrick Upton says Crawford left the members high and dry. In March 2000, Crawford agreed with then pastor Boyd Lawson to take over andincrease attendance. Lawson’s name was on the deed of ownership. Detective Upton said, “Nothing in that agreement was about what whenI get done preachingI’m just going to sell the church and move to Louisiana.”

But U.S. Marshals and the T.B.I. found Crawford there with a fake Arizona identification card. Authorities found him 18 months after a McMinn County grand jury indicted him.

Meanwhile, back at the churchJesse Hamilton recalls Crawford. Hamilton lives across from the church and attended a few meetings until Crawford tried to sell it to him. “He didn’t have the right papers nothing no how,” Hamilton said. When asked what Crawford said to him, Hamilton responded, “A lot of junk I didn’t even want to fool with him, get myhands dirty.”

Detective Upton explained how he believes Crawford performed the transaction.

“Basically what he did before he sold it is he just goes and gets a quit claim deed, gets his family members to sign it and then sells it without approval fomr Mr. Lawson and the other church members.” Investigator Upton added all but one of the signatures on the quit claim deed came from Crawford or one of his family members. Athens businessman Todd Ford bought the church and property for twenty-five thousand dollars. As for the money, Detective Upton says Crawford told him the church owed him that amount for repairs he’d done. When asked forreceipts, Upton says Crawford started changing his story. “I think the twenty-five thousand dollars in that length of time is long gone.”

Detective Upton says none of the money went to the prior pastor named on the deed, Boyd Lawson.

Meanwhile, Crawford remains in the McMinn County jail without bond. When he first arrived in Athens, he was a fugitive from Florida for an aggravated assault charge that never went to court.

One other note, Joe Letner..who works for current owner Todd Ford, says the building has been rented to other church groups.

Detective Upton says that may prompt another investigation.

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