Ex-AME Church Leaders Charged In $14M Fraud
Two former AME leaders have been charged for defrauding church congregations in California to the tune of $14 million.
Staccato Powell, 62, and Sheila Quintana, 67, have both been indicted of conspiracy and wire fraud, ABC News reported. The two were arrested Tuesday, Jan. 25 and appeared in courts in North Carolina and California, respectively.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Powell is from Wake Forest and Quintano from Vallejo. An indictment accuses the duo of incorporating Western Episcopal District, Inc. and illegally obtaining grant deeds to properties of congregations in Oakland, San Jose, Palo Alto and Los Angeles.
“The indictment alleges that Powell and Quintana conspired to defraud AME Zion Church congregations in Oakland, San Jose, Palo Alto, and Los Angeles by re-deeding the local congregations’ properties in the name of WED Inc.,” prosecutors said.
They then used those deeds as collateral to get $14 million in high-interest loans, unbeknownst to the congregations. According to prosecutors, they “did not inform the private lenders of the true facts, and they did not inform the local congregations of the new mortgages using the local church properties as collateral.
Powell and Quintana ultimately used the money on personal expenses including paying off Powell’s North Carolina home, purchasing other real estate and making payments to Quintana’s spouse, court documents state.
The scheme ran from 2016 to 2021, authorities told the Times.
In 2020, Powell and Quintana’s company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy because all the “hard money loans were in default,” the indictment said. The congregations’ properties were left saddled with debt – which had little or none prior to the scheme.
Powell was elected to serve as bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in 2016 and Quintana was an officer. Powell was disrobed in 2021 after an investigation by the church found he’d mishandled funds.