Thursday, December 20, 2012

Former Pastor on Trial for Embezzlement of Church in Virginia


The trial of former pastor Wilbert Brassfield began Thursday in Fluvanna County.

Brassfield is charged with five counts of embezzlement for allegedly taking more than $10,000 from Praise Christian Fellowship's account funds, which he had sole access to.

Prosecutors claim that Brassfield illegally took the money so that he could pay off his home mortgage. Defense attorneys countered that Brassfield was legally entitled to use the money as he saw fit.

The jury in the trial has already begun deliberations.

Karan Brassfield had no idea her now-estranged husband was embezzling funds from the Fluvanna church they started out of their home. Wilbert Davis Brassfield said that as pastor, he had the authority to write checks to any church member in need – including himself.

An all-white jury of eight women and four men convicted Wilbert Brassfield, 48, Thursday night of three counts of felony embezzlement in Fluvanna County Circuit Court. He was found not guilty of two additional embezzlement charges.

Brassfield, who once served as pastor of Courts of Praise Christian Fellowship, testified that bookkeeping is “not my thing.”

“I didn’t do good,” he said. “I didn’t keep good books.”

He wrote three checks from the church’s bank account to cover his own household expenses, including payments on his delinquent mortgage, Fluvanna County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Francis C. Terwilliger explained in his opening statement.

Without the knowledge of other members or church officials, Brassfield also transferred money from the church’s bank account to his personal bank account, which he opened without his wife’s knowledge in 2006.

As a pastor, Brassfield had the authority to write checks from the church’s account to those in need, he said, but admitted that he never gave more than $1,000 at one time to any other member.

Brassfield said that he donated more than $20,000 to the church during his time as pastor.

At a regular church meeting in 2009, he told church leaders he had something to tell them, according to testimony.

“He proceeded to say ‘I took money from the church,’” Karan Brassfield said. She testified that she had no idea her husband was mishandling funds.

At one point, the church had as many as 35 members, she testified. Many were family members, she added.

According to testimony, the church, which was renting a space, hoped to buy a building or land on which to build a new church.

“We actually went out and looked at other buildings to purchase,” Karan Brassfield said. Wilbert Brassfield accompanied church leaders on the ventures after he had embezzled funds, she added. He never mentioned the church’s dire finances.

Just two months after Wilbert Brassfield’s confession, he and his wife separated. Allegations started to “heat up” after the demise of the Brassfield’s marriage, defense attorney James Cooke said.

Brassfield, a 10-year veteran of the Charlottesville police force, lost his job as a school resource officer because of the charges against him. Courts of Praise Christian Fellowship closed in 2010.

The jury had not reached a decision as to Brassfield’s recommended sentence by press time.

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