The ‘Bling Bishop’ Is Arrested on Fraud Charges
Good morning. It’s Tuesday. We’ll look at federal fraud charges against a flamboyant Brooklyn pastor. We’ll also look at reactions to a New York Times article that said Representative-elect George Santos’s résumé may be largely fiction.
Credit…Mary Altaffer/Associated Press
The Brooklyn pastor Lamor Whitehead, who was robbed of a fortune in jewelry while he was preaching in July, was arrested on federal financial fraud charges.
The 44-year-old preacher, who is known as Bishop Whitehead and built a persona as the so-called bling bishop, “bullied a businessman for $5,000, then tried to defraud him of far more than that,” said Damian Williams, the United States attorney in Manhattan.
Prosecutors said Whitehead offered to help one of his parishioners buy a new house, talking her into withdrawing $90,000 from her retirement account. “I am a man of integrity, and you will not lose,” Whitehead texted the woman, but the prosecutors said he spent the money on luxury goods. When she asked for the money back, Whitehead said it was too late.
The indictment unsealed on Monday said that Bishop Whitehead had also tried to persuade the businessman to give him $500,000 and a stake in some real-estate transactions. In return, Bishop Whitehead promised favorable actions from the city that would make them “millions,” even though, according to the indictment, he knew he could not make good on the promise.
The indictment did not name any city officials or specify any actions taken by Bishop Whitehead, but it raised the question of his relationship with Mayor Eric Adams, who distanced himself from the bishop on Monday.
“I’ve spent decades enforcing the law and expect everyone to follow it,” Adams said in a statement.
Whitehead made headlines in July when gunmen appeared during a service at his Leaders of Tomorrow International Ministries church, whose sanctuary was above a Haitian restaurant. The service was showing on a livestream that went viral; two men were later arrested.
By then, federal authorities were already months into an investigation into Bishop Whitehead’s past financial dealings, and accusations first raised in lawsuits over the years reappeared as criminal charges on Monday. He faces one count each of wire fraud, attempted wire fraud, attempted extortion and false statements.
The false statement charge arose from an encounter with F.B.I. agents who executed a search warrant for his mobile phones. The indictment said he told the agents he had only the cellphone he was carrying at the time. But he had a second phone that he used regularly, the indictment said.
When he was younger, Bishop Whitehead spent time in prison and faced lawsuits that accused him of taking large amounts of money from acquaintances. He was ordered to pay a former client $306,000 in 2008 after he did not repay an initial investment of $200,000, and he owed more than $400,000 in judgments to a construction company that had worked on his house and the credit union that financed his Mercedes-Benz and his Range Rover.
Also in 2008, he was convicted on Long Island of several charges, including identity theft. He had been accused of taking out loans in other people’s names and using the money for cars and motorcycles, according to evidence presented at his trial. He spent five years in prison and founded his church when he was released.
His followers have said that his expensive tastes are inspirational. “Rappers, singers, the way they attract people, that’s what he’s doing,” one woman said last summer. “People want to know how you got all that. Once you get here, you see he is teaching God.”
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Doubts arise about a congressman-elect’s résumé
Representative-elect George Santos faced questions, as well as an uncertain future, after an article in The New York Times revealed that Santos, a Republican whose victory in a district in Nassau County and northeastern Queens helped his party claim a majority in the House, may have misrepresented parts of his résumé during his campaigns.
House Republicans and state party leaders were largely silent on Monday after the article by my colleagues Grace Ashford and Michael Gold appeared. But Joseph Cairo Jr., the Nassau County Republican chairman, said in a statement that the Times’s reporting raised “serious” issues that he believed Santos should address.
“Every person deserves an opportunity to ‘clear’ his/her name in the face of accusations,” Cairo said in the statement, adding that he looked forward to hearing from Santos.
Santos’s campaign biography said he had worked at Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, but both firms told The Times they had no records showing he had ever been an employee. Officials at Baruch College, which Santos has said he graduated from in 2010, found no record of anyone who received a diploma that year with a name and date of birth that matched his.
Santos, 34, has declined numerous requests to be interviewed. On Monday he used Twitter to recirculate a short statement that his lawyer, Joseph Murray, had released on Friday, with one small addition. On Monday, Mr. Murray characterized the Times article as a “shotgun blast of attacks,” but did not provide specific criticisms of what he had called The Times’s “defamatory allegations.”
The statement was Mr. Santos’s first public acknowledgment of the questions surrounding his background since Sunday night, when he said on Twitter that he was backing Representative Kevin McCarthy of California to be the next House speaker.
McCarthy, who has been working to fend off efforts by hard-right Republicans in the House to derail his bid for speaker, has not addressed Santos’s remarks or The Times’s reporting. A spokesman for McCarthy did not respond to emails and a phone call seeking an interview.
Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, who will be the House Democrats’ leader when the next Congress convenes in January, said in a statement that Santos was “woefully unqualified” and “clearly unfit to serve.”
Experts in ethics noted that Santos’s campaign disclosures had revealed little about the source of his fortune, in particular failing to name any client who paid more than $5,000 to his company, the Devolder Organization. Santos’s candidate disclosures showed that he paid himself $750,000 annually and earned dividends of more than $1 million while running for Congress.
Susan Lerner, the executive director of the government reform group Common Cause, urged investigations by the bipartisan Office of Congressional Ethics and federal prosecutors. In a statement, she also called on Santos to step down.
I rushed out of the New York Public Library one icy winter afternoon to catch the bus downtown to class at N.Y.U. I was holding the notebooks and books I was using for research for a paper.
The bus was starting to pull away, so I shouted out as I ran toward it. The driver stopped and opened the door.
Suddenly my legs went out from under me, and I fell face down on the ice. My belongings scattered in all directions.
When I looked up the driver was still waiting, so I quickly gathered my things up in a messy bundle, struggled to my feet and rushed so as not to hold up the passengers, who were staring out the windows at me.
But I slipped again and fell on my backside. My books and papers flew in all directions.
I waved for the bus to go on and began to crawl around on my hands and knees while picking up my things.
When I looked up, I saw that the driver was still waiting, and the passengers were still staring out the windows.
Gingerly, I approached the bus and climbed the steps.
“Thank you, but you really could have gone on,” I said to the driver.
“Lady,” he said, “I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
The passengers erupted in applause as I took a seat.
— Susan Libby
Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.
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Melissa Guerrero, Morgan Malget and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team firstname.lastname@example.org.