Danny Ray Wooten, a Pomona preacher accused of embezzling from Pasadena City Hall, where he was employed, has been stripped of his parsonage, the local head of his denomination said Monday.
Rev. C.E. Milton said he would send a new pastor to congregants of the New Covenant Church on North Garey Avenue in Pomona. The new pastor has not yet been identified.
The Southern California Evangelistic Jurisdiction has also begun an audit of its funds to determine if the organization has been scammed in any way.
“We have a good system in place,” Milton said. “We’re checking to see if anything is missing, but we have a sharp lady here who watches our books closely. He didn’t have access.”
District Attorney’s officials last week arrested Wooten and he is being held in lieu of $1.75 million bail.
Wooten is accused of embezzling $6.4 million from an obscure fund in the city’s public works department and funneling the money to himself and cohorts in a money laundering and kickback scheme.
“We’ve stripped him of all his authority,” said Milton, who heads a West Villa Street congregation. “This is an unfortunate event.”
Members of the City Council have known details about the case for weeks, but kept the information secret while the Los Angeles County District Attorney conducted a criminal investigation.
Wooten, 51, a former DPW management analyst was arrested with Altadena contractor Tyrone Collins, 55, and Melody Jenkins, 46, a onetime assistant to Wooten. The three are named in a 60-count felony complaint. The allegations include embezzlement, conflict of interest and grand theft.
The alleged public corruption scheme spans more years and involves a larger sum of money than the Bell scandal where officials misappropriated $5.5 million.
Pasadena officials claim Wooten wrote nearly 300 fraudulent invoices to the city on behalf of four bogus vendors. In return the city issued 189 checks totalling $6.4 million.
Wooten’s residence, a two-story tract home in a Montclair subdivision south of Mission Boulevard, was dark Sunday evening. Two black Cadillacs, one a 2014 vintage, were parked outside. Both vehicles are registered to him, according to records on file with the California Department of Motor Vehicles. A third car, a 2011 Chevrolet Cruze, is registered to Laventa Wooten, according to DMV records. No one answered the door at the home. Neighbors said they knew nothing about Danny Ray Wooten.
Wooten’s Church on North Garey Avenue has a gated parking lot and had been a dialysis center less than a decade ago. Previously the building had been a medical office.
A large portrait of Wooten and a large portrait of Wooten and his wife hang in the church’s foyer. On Sunday morning Laventa Wooten taught Sunday School, with the subject being prayer.
A reporter attending services was asked to leave.
“If you’re not here to enjoy God’s presence, then you need to leave,” Laventa Williams said.
In an interview last week, City Councilwoman Margaret McAustin said officials were shocked to learn they had been had by a former employee.
“We in Pasadena have always held ourselves out as a model of municipal government, so it’s an extra blow to find out ... for the past 11 years (that) one of our employees was stealing from us,” said McAustin. “It’s a shock.”
Milton said he understood the reaction.
“They ought to be upset,” he said. “I’m upset.”
Milton issued a statement Sunday acknowledging that church members would be praying for Wooten.
“Southern California Evangelistic Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction (SCEEJ) is deeply disappointed and saddened by the arrest of Pastor Danny Ray Wooten,” the statement began.
“All of the County’s allegations against Pastor Wooten relate to his employment with the City of Pasadena and in no way involve SCEEJ or its ministry functions,” it continued. “We understand that there is an entity, Southern California Evangelistic Jurisdictional Center, named in the allegations against Danny Wooten; however, the entity was named as one of two churches affiliated with Pastor Wooten alone. This entity is not related to SCEEJ and no authorization was given on the part of SCEEJ to form the entity or conduct its business.”
Milton said church officials will cooperate with authorities.
“At all times during this process, we will maintain open communication and full cooperation with the necessary authorities, and will continue to do so as we proceed through the legal process.”