HOUSTON - A former minister at Houston's First Baptist Church was indicted Tuesday on charges related to accusations that he stole more than $800,000 from the church.
Jerrell Altic, 40, was charged with embezzlement and surrendered to authorities Tuesday morning.
Investigators said Altic stole the money over the course of six years, which ended in November 2017.
Lester Blizzard with the Harris County District Attorney Office Special Crimes Bureau said that the former minister is accused of embezzling the funds and spending the cash on his lifestyle, which included overseas travel, trips with his family and a doctorate from Lancaster Bible School.
“He was leading a lifestyle above his means at the time," Blizzard said. “It was a large abuse of trust.”
Church officials said Altic was an employee and they noticed suspicious financial activity. They said he engaged in deceptive practices working with mission funds and other money.
When they approached him about it, officials said he resigned.
At a hearing, prosecutors said Altic admitted to taking the money.
"He feels horrible for what has happened and the pain that it's caused everyone at the church and his family members and friends," Altic's attorney James Alston said.
According to Alston, Altic has apologized to the church and aims to pay back all of the money.
"He's admitted to the offense. He's working with the church and trying to make amends with everything he can. He's actually met with the church and has asked for forgiveness. He's cooperating with them fully. He's cooperating with the DA's office," Alston said.
Altic said nothing as he left the courtroom in handcuffs.
"He would want me to tell everyone that he's sorry," Alston said of Altic.
A judge set Altic's bond at $50,000.
First Baptist Church said they received insurance money to help with the loss. The church has also created a better process of accountability.
Gregg Matte, senior pastor at Houston's First Baptist Church, released a statement to KPRC2 Tuesday that read:
"In November 2017, we discovered a limited set of suspicious financial activity related to Jerrell Altic. When we approached him about the matter, he immediately tendered his resignation. We reported our initial findings to law enforcement and our insurance provider, in keeping with our legal and fiduciary responsibilities, and began a thorough investigation conducted by staff leadership, relevant church committees and deacons as well as independent forensic accounting and legal experts.
This investigation, internally and by law enforcement, brought us to yesterday, December 10, when a Harris County grand jury indicted him for first degree felony theft of more than $800,000 of the church’s finances between 2011 and 2017, while he was employed here.
"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. 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.
"Unfortunately, due to the sensitive nature of the legal and investigative procedures triggered by this matter, we have not been able to provide these details until now. While we were unable to inform the church body because of the ongoing investigation, we informed and kept updated the related church committees, including personnel, finance, and missions committees, along with key staff and the deacon body, throughout this process. These past months have been challenging and painful for us as the extent of Jerrell’s actions came to light and as we wrestled with the tension of wanting to inform the congregation, while also carefully following law enforcement’s lead in the investigation, balancing legal constraints with church procedures.
"We are encouraged that our church’s insurance coverage paid $500,000, which reimbursed a significant part of the loss, while our church leadership approved using unallocated contingency funds to replace the balance.
"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.
"We pray for God’s work to continue to be done at Houston’s First, and for Jerrell and his family. Houston’s First remains committed to the advancement of the Gospel in our city, our nation and around the world (Acts 1:8). We understand and take seriously our responsibility to properly steward the resources God gives us through the generosity of our church family."
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