GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.–A Kent County judge has delayed sentencing for a pastor accused of stealing thousands of dollars from Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church in Grand Rapids.
Rev. Arthur Pearson is charged with embezzling $50,000 to $100,000 from the church, located at 510 Franklin St SE in Grand Rapids.
In a courtroom packed with both his critics and supporters from the church family, the judge decided to push back sentencing for three months and order Pearson to pay back the money he stole from the church. The judge said in court that the church puts that sum at $164,452.
Church investigators say Pearson stole the funds by using church bank accounts and credit cards and used it to buy clothes, gym memberships, and even pay his mortgage.
Lydia Lee, a longtime member, was appointed to speak on Thursday for the congregation. She told the court that Pearson had come to Pilgrim Rest as a well respected and humble leader, but became deceptive and greedy.
“He became greedy and dishonest. He has brought shame to the body of Christ and confusion to our young believers. He has hurt, fractured, and divided our church family, Lee told the court.
Pearson served as pastor at Pilgrim Rest from 2008. He was fired in June 2012 after allegations surfaced.
In January, he pleaded no contest to the embezzlement charges.
As part of the order, the judge stated that Pearson will have 48 months to pay the restitution and that he should have no contact with the church and not have access to any person’s finances.
A crowd of followers stood by the pastor after the proceedings.
“I came out to support my pastor, I know he is innocent,” shouted one woman.
Pearson’s attorney and Pearson met privately with some of the congregation.
“This is perfect example of when religion becomes a dividing point. He feels awful. The people who are still with him at his church feel awful and I’m sure people at Pilgrim Rest feels awful,” said defense attorney Steve Fishman.
He applauded the judge’s decision to focus on restitution and hopes to keep the financial matters private. He says the dollar amount owed is subject to change.
Sentencing has been reset for July 11th.