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Police Say Pastor Sold Church for $600K to Pay for Drugs

A Florida pastor faces 12 charges related to fraud and theft after authorities say he sold his church property for $600,000 to support his drug habit.

Police arrested James Edward Smith II, the pastor of New Jerusalem Baptist Church in Pompano Beach, on multiple charges for allegedly defrauding the church to support his drug habit.

An investigation began in April 2020 after parishioners and church founders complained that Smith deceptively gained control over the church and its funds by forging a transfer of property ownership.

Authorities discovered Smith had filed the forged quit claim deed that allowed him to take over the church’s property. He then sold the church estate for $600,000 for drug money, officials said in a press release.

The Broward County Sheriff’s Office also charged Edwards for larceny and fraud associated with over $1,600 worth of checks he wrote via the church’s bank account.

On Tuesday, February 28, police arrested Smith and booked him into Broward County Jail.

When authorities searched Smith’s home, they found heroin, methamphetamine, marijuana, and a stolen firearm, which led to additional charges.

He now faces charges of organized scheme to defraud, fraud, grand theft, criminal use of personal identification information, unlawful filing of false document records against real or personal property, grand theft of a firearm, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and violation of probation.

The church website still lists Smith as a pastor, and says he is a third generation preacher. Smith is married and has four children.

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EDITOR’S NOTE:  Why does MinistryWatch report on financial fraud in the church?  We report on them because one in three churches will be victimized, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity. We also report on them because these crimes have real victims and cost taxpayers and other stakeholders billions of dollars every year.  Even small crimes in small churches have huge consequences.  We also report on them to remind our readers that they do not have to be victims. There are steps you can take to prevent financial waste, fraud, and abuse in your church or ministry.  To find out more, click here.

Main photo: Rev. James Edwards Smith / New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church

Jessica Eturralde

Jessica Eturralde is a military wife of 18 years and mother of three who serves as a freelance writer, TV host, and filmmaker. Bylines include Yahoo, Huffington Post, OC16TV.