Swindling pastor gets seven years, plus an earful

One after another, the victims of Gresham pastor and businessman Corey Jerry Pritchett took the stand to tell a judge just how they’d been betrayed.

Sant Louis Latham, an Indonesian immigrant, told the judge she borrowed $20,000 on her credit card and gave it to Pritchett to invest in flipping a home. Latham — who said Pritchett knew she planned to donate the proceeds to the victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami — broke into tears Wednesday as she turned to Pritchett and admonished him for failing to give her even a cent back.

“I lost 200 lives in the tsunami earthquake,” said Latham, referring to those who died in the Sumatran town where her mother lives. “I told you I wanted to help.”

Lisa Heinemann, a single mother of five, told the judge she felt particularly betrayed because Pritchett had visited her home and met her children — including two who are autistic — but took $1,000 from her anyway. A few weeks later, she didn’t have enough money to put Christmas presents under the tree.

Time and time again throughout Pritchett’s November trial and Wednesday’s four-hour sentencing hearing, victims said they trusted Pritchett because he was a pastor. Investigators said that by the time Pritchett was arrested in May, his congregation had dwindled to his immediate family.

Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Judith Matarazzo listened to 31/2 hours of testimony before sentencing Pritchett to nearly eight years behind bars, with no option of time off for good behavior.

Pritchett, 44, met his victims through Craigslist, through newspaper ads or by chance. He represented himself as a successful real estate investor who would use clients’ money to remodel and sell houses, promising 30 percent returns. Or he sold or rented them homes that he didn’t own or manage. In one case, he sold two separate people the same house on the same day.

In all, Pritchett was convicted of 32 counts tied to bilking victims out of an estimated $43,000 from 2004 to 2006. But special prosecutors Simon Whang and Jason Weber said he cheated many more victims than the nine cases he was charged with. In some cases, the statute of limitations had expired.

“Mr. Pritchett has been a con man . . . for years and years and years,” said Whang, who prosecuted the case for the Oregon Division of Finance and Corporate Securities.

Whang said Pritchett has 44 civil judgments against him dating back 17 years and owes several hundred thousand dollars. Whang told the judge that Pritchett continued scheming even when in jail by offering to rent or sell inmates homes when they were released.

Often, Pritchett preyed on the down and out: a family about to get evicted from their home, people who borrowed money on their credit cards to make what they thought would be smart investments, and even a woman who was taking care of a man with Alzheimer’s. One victim said her family became homeless because of the $2,000 they gave Pritchett. She collected pop cans and her sons sold their blood to make ends meet.

“All the while, he’s living in a $400,000 to $500,000 house, on nine acres, overlooking a lake,” Whang said. “Mr. Pritchett doesn’t care; he’ll take money from anyone.”

Pritchett, who fired his attorney and represented himself, continued to argue his innocence during the sentencing hearing. Pritchett said he was simply a failed businessman.

“At no time did I . . . conspire to go out and rip anybody off,” Pritchett said.

Pritchett called his own witnesses who vouched for his character.

The sentence calls for him to be locked up for 94 months, but next week Pritchett will appear in Clackamas County Circuit Court, where he faces 25 more charges of defrauding people. He plans to represent himself again.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday January 18, 2008.
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