In 2021, Stovall and Keri Weems, then pastors at Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Florida, purchased a home at $855,000 through Weems Group LLC, a limited liability company, and then sold it to their church four months later for $1,286,900, a $431,000 profit!
This financial transaction plays a central role in an investigation conducted by law firm Nelson Mullins on behalf the church. Findings from the investigation were compiled into a report available to church members and the public.
According to the report, “The Church’s purchase of the Shellcracker property was not disclosed to or approved by the Board. The closing documents were signed by Weems on behalf of both Weems Group and the Church. The Church financed the purchase of the property by drawing on its line of credit from its primary lender, Wesleyan Investment Foundation (“WIF”). Weems executed a Mortgage Modification and Spreading Agreement encumbering the Shellcracker parsonage and increasing the Church’s debt by $1,300,000.”
While Nelson Mullins never described the financial transaction as fraud, the sale to the church is similar to flipped property fraud schemes the FBI began aggressively investigating in the early 2000s during America’s housing bubble.
In the flipped property fraud schemes prices were artificially inflated like the Weems home sale to the church. The victims were financial institutions rather than churches as home buyers stopped making payments, causing homes to go into foreclosure.
The profits from selling the Weems’ home are subject to capital gains taxes. Rocket Mortgage explains, “If you have owned and occupied your property for at least 2 of the last 5 years, you can avoid paying capital gains taxes on the first $250,000 for single-filers and $500,000 for married people filing jointly.”
Celebration Church’s board of directors has announced how they intend to deal with the problem: “Remove Stovall Weems and Kerri Weems from the parsonage and sell the property.”
In response, the Weems file a lawsuit for an injunction against the church.
In 2020, Family Worship Center, also known as Jimmy Swaggart Ministries, purchased the homes of Jimmy Swaggart and his son Donnie Swaggart.
Other pastors have flipped property to their churches for quick profits. In 2011, New Orleans TV station Fox 8 investigated Mike Millé, pastor of White Dove Fellowship for questionable property transactions.
Journalist Lee Zurik reported, “In August 2007, Millé and his wife purchased the property in their name for $850,000. About three months later, records show Millé and his wife then sold the property to their church, White Dove Fellowship. The church paid $1.2 million.
So, in a little more than 90 days, Millé and his wife appear to have made an almost $400,000 profit from the church.”
Several televangelists have also sold jets to their churches and aviation companies they control. But that should be the topic of another article.