New York ‘bling bishop’ charged with defrauding parishioner

A New York pastor who made headlines this year when he was robbed of $1 million worth of jewellery during a live-streamed church service was charged Monday with defrauding a parishioner.

Lamor Whitehead, the 44-year-old head of the self-founded Leaders of Tomorrow International Churches, was also slapped with counts of extortion and of lying to the FBI.

Manhattan prosecutors allege that Whitehead, called the “bling bishop” by local media and known for his designer suits, swindled a woman out of $90,000 of her retirement savings.

He told the woman he would use the money to help her obtain a home but instead spent it on luxury goods and clothing for himself, according to the federal indictment.

Whitehead also “used threats of force” to extort a businessman of $5,000, prosecutors allege.

He told agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation that he had no cellphones other than the one he was carrying when in fact he owned another phone, the indictment further alleges.

“His campaign of fraud and deceit stops now,” Damian Williams, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement.

Whitehead’s lawyer, Dawn Florio, told The New York Times that Whitehead “denies these allegations, and we are going to fight them vigorously.”

The fraud and extortion charges each carry a maximum of 20 years in prison.

Whitehead was in the news in July when armed robbers burst into his small church in Brooklyn and stole jewellery from him and his wife as his sermon was being streamed online.

Two men were later charged in connection with the robbery.

The story also brought attention to Whitehead’s lavish lifestyle, scrutiny that he claimed was based, in part, on racism.

Whitehead has claimed to be close to New York City Mayor Eric Adams and a recent report by New York Magazine said hip-hop star 50 Cent once spoke at a church event he had organized.

Whitehead in 2008 was convicted of several charges, including identity theft, and served five years in prison before founding his church on his release, according to media reports. — Agence France-Presse

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