August 28, 2005
“God has blessed us to ride in the best automobiles, live in the best homes, wear the finest minks and exclusive clothing, and to have large bank accounts,” a Chicago bishop once told a Pentecostal convention in the 1970s. This may not be exactly what he had in mind:
Bishop William A. Ellis, pastor of Apostolic Pentecostal Church of Morgan Park, admitted earlier this summer he stole more than $500,000 in church money. That pilfered collection-plate cash came on top of the hefty salary, the $100,000 car and the Flossmoor mansion the church already provided for Ellis.
Two months after pleading guilty to felony tax fraud — and more than a year after he was first charged in the case — Ellis remains at the helm of the sprawling house of worship at 114th Street and Vincennes Avenue. Ellis was able to parlay the conviction into martyrdom, according to one longtime parishioner.
At a sentencing hearing scheduled for Tuesday, federal prosecutors are likely to tell U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman that Ellis should spend at least two years behind bars. But the pastor’s lawyers will contend prison time isn’t appropriate — arguing in part that Ellis still is desperately needed at his church.
“Support your bishop,” blared a bulletin calling on worshipers to reserve seats on church buses bound for Chicago’s federal courthouse for the 11 a.m. sentencing. “Prayer warriors wanted. No doubters allowed.”
The evening of the sentencing — as well as the evening after it — a “victory rally” is planned at the church. In fact, there have been “victorious prayer vigils” at the church every single night of August leading up to Ellis’ sentencing.
… When Ellis was indicted last year, he was accused of not reporting to the IRS $520,000 in church money he skimmed between 1996 and 2001. In addition to an estimated $1,000 he took from each Sunday’s collection plate, he also used the church’s American Express card for personal expenses and church funds to pay off his own credit card and life insurance premiums.
… Prosecutors also alleged Ellis used church funds to buy himself a second Mercedes-Benz to supplement the one the church already had bought him. The fully loaded church-bought Mercedes cost $107,000, Worthon said.
Bobbe Worthon, who has collected nearly 200 signatures from church members calling for Ellis to resign, thinks the pastor should drive directly to jail: “I love him—I don’t hate anybody,” Worthon said. “But God knows I hope he goes to jail. He needs it.”
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