Rev. Noah Thomas – Indicted – Stealing Church’s Hurricane Katrina Relief Funds – What Ever Happened To ‘Thou Shalt Not Steal?’

Regardless of religious belief, all are tempted. Pastors are no different. But it says in the Bible – You will reap what you sow. From personal experience, I can testify to that statement as true. Now, it appears that Rev. Noah Thomas, age 42, will get a chance to understand that short truth first hand as he has been recently charged with mail fraud for stealing his church’s hurricane relief funds.

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Thomas was the pastor of Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church. The church building, located in the 2200 block of South Liberty Street in New Orleans, was devastated by flood water following Hurricane Katrina. Since the church did not have flood insurance, the congregation applied for and received a $252,000 SBA loan and a $35,000 grant from the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund.

According to the US Attorney’s office, the Bill of Information alleges that Thomas created a scheme to defraud the Church of the grant funds for his own personal benefit by having the $35,000 check from the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund mailed to his house and then deposited into a bank account that he established and controlled. It is also alleged that Thomas created a similar scheme to defraud the Church of the SBA loan money by having the SBA wire the initial $10,000 disbursement of the disaster loan into the same bank account.

If convicted, Thomas faces a maximum term of imprisonment of twenty (20) years, a fine of $250,000.00 and three (3) years of supervised release following any term of imprisonment. Keep in mind an indictment is not a guilty verdict and Thomas is assumed to be innocent until proven guilty. Thus far no date has been set for his trial.

Every choice has a consequence. It seems that the occurrence of natural disasters like “Katrina” open the flood gates for unnatural choices. As a white collar crime and business ethics speaker, I am often asked to speak about why people make the choices (wrong choices) that they make. At times that is easy because it is obvious – at other times, not so easy. But, one thing is for sure, there are three components to most any financial fraud – (1) need; (2) opportunity and (3) rationalization.

While I can’t speak for sure in this case to #3 for Thomas – it seems clear that #1 and #2 were clearly present. Hurricane Katrina created a need that most people can’t imagine. Likewise, in most small churches the pastor is also the head of the church and with their membership scattered, it would be obvious that Thomas had the opportunity as there was likely very little oversight by other church leaders.

From an overview, it appears that the courts have been tough on those who abuse the relief efforts stemming from Hurricane Katrina. We’ll follow this – so more to come.

Your comments are welcome!

White Collar Crime speaker – Chuck Gallagher – off for now…

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