Thursday, November 28, 2013

Former youth minister pleads guilty in extortion-linked embezzlement in Virginia

A former youth minister who embezzled more than $87,000 from his Mechanicsville church to pay off a woman’s blackmail scheme pleaded guilty Monday in Hanover County Circuit Court.
Chris Allen Phillips, 51, who no longer holds a position at Mechanicsville Advent Christian Church, will be sentenced Feb. 24 and faces up to 20 years in prison. He remains free on bond.
Phillips paid the money to Tonya Farnsworth, 34, a Henrico County woman who offered her services online and who threatened to reveal a one-time sexual relationship with Phillips if he didn’t meet her demands for money.
In the weeks after the brief tryst at Farnsworth’s Henrico residence Dec. 22 last year, the church and its day care facility lost more than $87,000, according to Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Angela O’Connor. Phillips also used about $75,000 of his own family’s money to make payments to Farnsworth.
At one point, O’Connor said, Phillips took control of the church’s day care checkbook.
On almost a daily basis, Phillips placed tens of thousands of dollars into a black Lincoln Navigator parked near Farnsworth’s home on West End Drive in Henrico after Farnsworth threatened to make public pictures she claimed to have, O’Connor said in court.
Phillips located Farnsworth, who went by Tammy, online and paid $200 for sexual favors at her home, only to have Farnsworth reach him days later to falsely accuse him of stealing some $500 from the home.
When Phillips denied taking money, Farnsworth threatened to publish pictures of him with her if he didn’t pay her.
Farnsworth pleaded guilty to extortion in October and is awaiting sentencing. She could get up to 10 years in prison.
Investigators recovered hundreds of pages of texts from Farnsworth’s cellphone, and defense lawyer Craig Cooley said yesterday that Farnsworth allegedly had at least two other victims.

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