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Former Aurora pastor faces more theft charges

Howard Richmond

Howard Richmond

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Updated: February 12, 2013 2:43PM

WHEATON — As he asked his parishioners for thousands of dollars, former Aurora Pastor Howard Richmond showed off phony bank letters and deposit tickets claiming he had millions of dollars in the bank, according to new indictments issued by a DuPage County grand jury.

It has been almost three years since prosecutors first charged Richmond, a Naperville resident, with bilking members of his storefront church in Aurora — Life Reach Ministries — to the tune of $459,000 in a scheme where he solicited funding for construction of a new church while claiming to have plenty of money in various accounts.

He long ago pleaded not guilty to those charges and has twice been scheduled for trial on the initial charges of theft, deceptive practice, fraud and operating a financial crimes enterprise.

Richmond is now scheduled to be arraigned Jan. 23 on the new 10-count indictment related to four additional people who gave him money in the three years prior to his first arrest in 2010. The new charges include forgery, theft, financial institution fraud, as well as organizing and continuing a financial crimes enterprise.

“They’re not previously named victims,” said Paul Darrah, a spokesman for the DuPage County state’s attorney’s office.

According to the indictments, at various times between May 2007 and January 2010, Richmond convinced the four people to give him a total of $55,000 in checks or cash. To bolster his requests, Richmond displayed a $2 million check from Creflo Dollar Ministries, a bank statement showing a $12 million balance and a letter on Chase Bank letterhead stating Richmond had “approximately $50,000,000 on deposit” with the bank, court records show.

One bank worker, Sallie Berry, pleaded guilty to taking a bribe to create a fake bank document for Richmond. She was sentenced to 30 days in jail as part of an agreement with prosecutors that also requires her to testify against Richmond. A second bank worker is described in Richmond’s indictment as using Chase letterhead in March 2008 to report Richmond had nearly $1 million “being cleared” to his accounts. No charges have been filed against the second worker, Darrah said.

While the 2010 case has wound its way through the courts, Richmond has found himself in additional trouble. In 2012, prosecutors lodged new allegations against Richmond after a man loaned him money to fund a check — which bounced — to pay off $114,000 in overdue rent on the church’s location near the Westfield Fox Valley Mall in Aurora, court records show. The church was evicted early last year.

Richmond is also accused of witness harassment involving a woman who cooperated with investigators. Richmond met with the woman, who shares the same last name, in June asking her “three times if she loved him” and “why she had spoken with law enforcement” instead of denying she knew anything, documents show. Richmond contacted the woman again in August, telling her they both would go to jail if she didn’t write a letter recanting her information about the case, according to a December indictment.

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