Trial delayed for Aurora pastor accused of bilking followers
By Dan Campana For The Beacon-News February 23, 2012 3:36PM
Rev. Howard Richmond
Updated: March 22, 2012 10:36PM
Attorneys for the Rev. Howard Richmond, an Aurora minister, claim his “intelligence level” made it impossible for him to understand his rights during a police interview at which he reportedly confessed to taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from members of his storefront church.
Meanwhile, the strip mall home to Richmond’s Life Reach Ministries Worldwide church appears vacant after a DuPage County judge agreed the church should be evicted for failing to pay months of back rent.
Richmond, free on $250,000 bail, was scheduled to stand trial in early March on multiple counts of theft, deceptive practice and other financial crimes relating to the church, but his attorneys recently asked for a delay so they could try to have Richmond’s statements to police barred from trial. That hearing will take place on March 6.
Aurora police arrested Richmond on May 21, 2010, and interviewed him about the allegations. It was then that Richmond reportedly admitted to stealing nearly $500,000 from three church members under the guise of borrowing the money for the purchase of land for church purposes.
“Due to Howard Richmond’s mental capacity, he did not understand the Miranda warnings given to him,” his attorneys wrote in court filings. “Howard Richmond’s intelligence level made it impossible for him to understand the questioning.”
Prosecutors, who have not yet filed a formal response to the motion, allege Richmond showed the church members fake bank letters stating he had $21 million to $50 million in an account. Richmond paid a bank employee, Sallie Berry, to create the letters. She has pleaded guilty to her role in the scheme and is expected to testify against Richmond.
On Thursday — as the Life Reach Ministries website continues to list its address as being on an outlot of the Westfield Fox Valley mall in Aurora — Richmond’s church appeared empty.
In November, Plaza Square LLC began the process to evict the church from its property on Fox Valley Center Drive for failing to pay approximately $265,000 in rent. The sides reached a compromise in December in which Life Reach would pay $100,000 immediately and make subsequent payments to cover past and current rent until the lease’s conclusion in 2013.
However, the initial check for $114,000 bounced and Plaza Square LLC returned to court to have the eviction enforced in January.
Judge Bonnie Wheaton ultimately found no reason to delay the eviction and signed off on its enforcement — including payment of $293,000 — in late January, court records show.
A DuPage County Sheriff’s Department notice filed with court documents indicated the church had to be gone by Thursday, but that order appeared to have been waived last week.
Back at the church, nothing signified it was permanently shuttered, although all of the walls inside were bare and the large room where services had been held contained no chairs, tables or other furniture. Two service times, as well as Richmond’s name, were still posted on the doors, which were locked.