Ex-Local Pastor Sentenced For $500M Fraud

Community Bible Church Leaders Say Barry Minkow Stole From Parishioners

A local pastor is heading back to prison for his involvement in a scam that cost a Florida-based homebuilder more than $500 million in lost stock value.

Barry Minkow, 45, was sentenced Thursday in a Miami courtroom for his role in a conspiracy against Florida-based homebuilder Lennar Corp.

He received the maximum term of 5 years in prison and was ordered to pay restitution.

The 10News I-Team learned leaders at the Community Bible Church in Mira Mesa recently held a closed-door meeting and created an audit team of church members to investigate numerous allegations of wrongdoing by Minkow, a former pastor at the church.

Minkow gained attention through national media for his past crimes, including turning a Los Angeles-based carpet cleaning company into a $100 million Ponzi scheme. He was sentenced in 1988 for fraud.

After his release in 1995, Minkow founded the Fraud Discovery Institute that helped the FBI and other law enforcement agencies ferret out white-collar crimes around the country, and he was pastor of a San Diego church. Minkow's attorney, Alvin Entin, said the fraud institute helped uncover more than $1 billion in scams.

"He is not the devil incarnate," Entin said. "He's a person who has tremendous potential when it is properly channeled."

Minkow openly admitted that in the past he was no saint, but said that he changed his ways and turned to religion.

However, it began unraveling when Minkow pleaded guilty March to conspiracy after being accused of trying to rip off Lennar, a builder involved in a major North County golf course project known as "The Bridges."

The I-Team learned the Community Bible Church is suffering financially, and some church members have said other parishioners were victimized by Minkow.

Many of Minkow's alleged victims reached out to the I-Team and were in turn connected with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami, which is prosecuting Minkow for federal crimes.

Minkow's attorney apparently agreed to a plea deal for five years in prison in connection with the Bridges controversy. However, this was before federal authorities knew about his alleged crimes against the Community Bible Church and its members.

According to church elders, Minkow was ripping off the church since 2000. The I-Team learned the church's name was found on PayPal accounts that Minkow controlled. The I-Team uncovered extensive records that appear to support the church's claims.

The I-Team learned Minkow set up lines of credit in the church's name at various institutions, including Seacoast Bank ($70,000) and Bank of America ($70,000). He apparently maxed out all lines of credit.

Church auditors said Minkow opened 10 accounts in the church's name using "forged signatures" and sending the bills to his office set up in the church. Additionally, auditors said Minkow "fabricated church board minutes."

Church auditors also said Minkow stole hundreds of thousands of dollars in checks and cash meant for church donations.

In one case, Minkow is accused of taking $75,000 a family had donated for Darfur relief intended to help genocide victims.

Minkow, who is to report to prison Sept. 21, was also ordered to pay Lennar more than $583.5 million in restitution for the estimated 20 percent drop in Lennar' stock price. The company said in a statement it was pleased with the sentence and efforts to "protect the integrity of our securities markets."

"We expect that other individuals responsible for the illegal attack on Lennar's stock and shareholders will soon be brought to justice," said the statement by Lennar attorney Daniel Petrocelli.

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