HOUSTON (BP)—A former pastoral staff member at Houston’s First Baptist Church has admitted to embezzling more than $800,000 from the congregation, according to media reports.
Jerrell Altic, 40, was indicted Dec. 10 for first degree felony theft of more than $800,000 from 2011-17, Houston’s First said in a statement by Pastor Gregg Matte and deacon Chairman Craig Bloodworth.
Altic surrendered to law enforcement Dec. 11 and has “admitted fully to the offense,” his attorney James Alston said according to The Houston Chronicle.
Altic is “working with the church, he’s trying to make amends for everything that he possibly can,” Alston said. “He feels horrible for what has happened and the pain that it’s caused everyone at the church, and his family members and friends. He would want me to tell everyone that he’s sorry.”
Alston declined to say how the money was stolen or whether it was spent.
‘Lavish’ purchases and cash advances
Dane Schiller, a spokesman for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, said Altic allegedly used his church credit card to make “lavish” purchases and secure cash advances.
Houston’s First Baptist Church said it discovered “a limited set of suspicious financial activity” in November 2017 and approached Altic about it.
“He immediately tendered his resignation,” and the church reported the matter to law enforcement in addition to launching its own “thorough investigation,” church officials said.
“We have learned through the investigation process that, acting alone, Jerrell engaged in multiple deceptive and difficult-to-detect techniques to carry out this theft,” the church stated. “That said, though his fraudulent activities involved missions funds, all of Houston’s First ministry partners received their designated monies, as his actions did not prevent our church from providing resources to local ministries, church plants or other strategic partners.
“Nevertheless, we have already enacted additional policies to help ensure all donations and expenses are protected and handled properly moving forward. The outside expertise we sought helped us not only to determine the extent of this serious violation of trust, but also provided recommendations on how our financial controls might be improved or strengthened,” the church stated.
Due to “the sensitive nature of the legal and investigative procedures,” the church’s leaders have not been able until now to inform the full church body of the allegations against Altic, Houston’s First Baptist Church said.
Insurance has reimbursed the church $500,000, and “our church leadership approved using unallocated contingency funds to replace the balance,” the church announced.
“As challenging as this discovery has been for everyone involved, we have also been encouraged by the continued generosity and passion for missions work from our congregation—including through generous, unsolicited financial gifts from those who have come to know of his wrongdoing,” the church stated.
“We pray for God’s work to continue to be done at Houston’s First, and for Jerrell and his family. … We understand and take seriously our responsibility to properly steward the resources God gives us through the generosity of our church family.”