George Joseph and Yoav Gonen, The City
This article was originally published on Dec 19 6:41pm EST by THE CITY
Federal authorities on Monday arrested Brooklyn Bishop Lamor Whitehead, charging him with allegedly fleecing a 56-year-old parishioner of her entire life savings, extorting a businessman, and lying to federal agents.
The parishioner, identified in an indictment as Victim-1, appears to be Pauline Anderson, who has a lawsuit pending against Whitehead alleging he bilked her out of $90,000 in retirement savings in exchange for promising to help her purchase a home that never materialized.
The allegations against Whitehead from Anderson were first reported by THE CITY in July.
That was just days after Whitehead made national headlines for being robbed at gunpoint on the pulpit alongside his wife while Whitehead was delivering a Sunday sermon that was being live streamed. Two of the three alleged robbers were arrested and charged in September.
According to federal prosecutors, Whitehead used his parishioner’s money “to purchase thousands of dollars of luxury goods and clothing” and “never helped” her obtain a home, ignoring her requests to return her money.
A representative for the law firm representing Anderson in an ongoing lawsuit against Whitehead declined to comment.
The unsealed indictment from U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams also alleges that Whitehead “used threats of force” to attempt to get $5,000 from a businessman earlier this year.
The indictment alleges the bishop attempted to get the businessman to lend him around $500,000 and give him a stake in unspecified real estate transactions in exchange for “favorable actions” from New York City authorities — which he knew “he had no ability” to make happen, according to prosecutors.
“As we allege today, Lamor Whitehead abused the trust placed in him by a parishioner, bullied a businessman for $5,000, then tried to defraud him of far more than that, and lied to federal agents,” said Williams in a statement. “His campaign of fraud and deceit stops now.”
Dawn Florio, the attorney who is defending Whitehead in his federal case, said he’s not guilty of the charges.
“He will be vigorously defending these allegations,” said Florio. “He feels that he is being targeted and being turned into a villain from a victim.”
‘My Good Friend’
Whitehead, who is pastor of the storefront Leaders of Tomorrow International Churches in Canarsie, ran unsuccessfully for Brooklyn borough president last year. Previously, he served five years in New York State prison after being convicted of grand larceny and 15 instances of identity fraud in 2008.
The pastor has described himself over the years as a close associate of now-Mayor Eric Adams.
In September 2015, Whitehead posted to Facebook: “Celebrating My Mentor, My Brother, and My Friend Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams Birthday! Love you man!!!”
He concluded the post with the hashtag “#loyaltyisamust.”
Adams, for his part, introduced Whitehead at a concert in Brooklyn the following year as “my good friend and good brother,” but has more recently characterized the relationship as one of mentorship.
“As a Black man, I have an obligation to mentor other Black men that had negative encounters in their lives and other people in general,” Adams said when asked about their relationship in July.
Asked about Monday’s indictment, mayoral spokesperson Fabien Levy emailed a statement from the mayor that said: “I’ve spent decades enforcing the law and expect everyone to follow it. I have also dedicated my life to assisting individuals with troubled pasts. While these allegations are troubling, I will withhold further comment until the process reaches its final conclusion.”
Federal prosecutors are also charging the bishop for alleged false statements. During the execution of a search warrant, Whitehead told FBI agents that he only owned the cellphone that he had on him at the time, but in reality he had a second phone, which he used before and after execution of the search warrant, the indictment claims.
A text message on that second phone referred to it as “my other phone,” the indictment says.
Brian Ponder, an attorney defending Whitehead from Anderson’s claims in civil court, declined to comment on behalf of his client.
Whitehead shot to national prominence this July when he and his wife were robbed of more than $1 million worth of jewelry in the middle of a sermon at his church in Canarsie. Previously, the bishop attempted to intervene in the arrest of Andrew Abdullah, a man accused of shooting to death a subway rider on the Q train in Manhattan this May in an unprovoked attack.
Anderson’s 2021 lawsuit against Whitehead said she became a parishioner of Leaders of Tomorrow church in January 2020. It says that in April of that year, after she underwent “life-threatening” surgery, Whitehead got on a phone call with her — at the urging of her son Rasheed Anderson — to pray for her recovery.
A few months later, Rasheed Anderson arranged another call between his mom and Whitehead regarding her interest in buying a home despite having bad credit history, the lawsuit says.
In subsequent phone calls in July and October, Pauline Anderson and Whitehead had phone calls with third-party lenders who told Anderson how challenging it would be for her to buy a home given her credit history, according to the court papers.
After the second call, Whitehead proposed an alternate plan, the lawsuit alleged: He asked Pauline Anderson to invest in his firm, Lamor Whitehead Inc, saying he would use the money to buy her a home and make any needed repairs, and return any unused portion of the “investment.”
When Pauline Anderson expressed concerns about investing everything with Whitehead because she had no source of income, he agreed to pay her a $100 monthly stipend until the home purchase and renovation were completed, the court papers allege.
They go on to say that on Nov. 30, 2020, Pauline Anderson wrote a cashier’s check to Whitehead in the amount of $90,000.
Over the next six months, when Anderson would ask Whitehead for an update on the home purchase, he would tell her he was too busy with his campaign for Brooklyn borough president, according to the lawsuit.
On May 19, 2021, Whitehead lashed out at Pauline and Rasheed Anderson, according to text messages that were admitted as exhibits in her lawsuit.
“I’m in Aww [sic] Of how The Devil is Using you however I Knew it was Coming! Now Beware Of The Hand Of Judgement Will hit your Life and everything that’s connected to you!” Whitehead allegedly wrote. “And for the record anything that was given to me is a Donation unless it’s attached to a contract! I was making investments that’s what I Do!”
The following month, Whitehead went on to garner just over 4,000 of the nearly 200,000 votes cast for Brooklyn borough president in the Democratic primary, election records show.
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