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Texas Pastor Convicted of Theft, Money Laundering

Randy Free was sentenced to 7 ½ years in prison and 10 years of probation.

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Charles Randall “Randy” Free, former pastor of Cedar Cross Country Church in Alvarado, Texas, was convicted of four first-degree felonies and sentenced to 7 years and 6 months in prison and 10 years of probation, to be served concurrently.

According to Johnson County Assistant District Attorney Tim Good, on December 1 the jury found Free guilty of theft, two counts of money laundering, and one count of misappropriation of fiduciary property, all related to amounts over $300,000.

Free and his wife Michelle were accused of taking control of the church’s assets by making himself the president and registered agent for the Cedar Cross Country Church. The Frees then set up a separate non-profit corporation, Team Heritage International, in order to move the church’s assets and sell the church property for between $1 million and $1.5 million. Some of those funds were apparently used by the Frees to buy themselves a house.

“The tithes went to [Free], and he made his life better off the sacrifices of the church members,” Good told MinistryWatch.

As part of his probation, Good said they want to ensure Free can’t engage in these kinds of financial crimes again. While his terms of probation won’t prohibit him from ministry, they will require he disclose his conviction and prevent him from sitting on the board of a church or nonprofit with control over the finances.

If he violates the terms of his probation, Free could be sent back to prison for 10 years, Good said.

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The civil case seeking the recovery of church funds was resolved in May after the receiver was able to acquire and deposit over $1.2 million of the church’s funds with the court. The funds have now been returned to the church.

The district attorney’s office also plans to seek restitution for the remaining $255,000 that was not recovered in the accompanying civil case.

Cedar Cross Country Church lost their building due to Free’s actions, but the Southwest Metroplex Baptist Association learned of a nearby building that was being vacated by an older congregation, Happy Hill Baptist Church, and allowed Cedar Cross to use it.

At the trial, testimony was given that Free is still leading Cedar Cross Country Church, but it consists of somewhere between five and 15 people and meets in homes across the area now.

A notice of appeal has been filed in the case. Good said that because of the length of his sentence, Free is eligible for an appeal bond that allows him to remain free pending his appeal. However, Good will ask for the same conditions on his appeal bond that he requested for probation.

Free’s wife Michelle, who was also indicted, has not yet been tried.

Main photo: Randy and Michelle Free

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Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is a freelance writer who holds a Juris Doctorate from Baylor University. She has home schooled her three children and is happily married to her husband of 25 years.