Thursday, August 5, 2010

More Greed & Error On The Horizon

*Watch out for the launch of the Horizons Television Network, and keep your money in your pockets!

Cash for Eastside church spent on luxuries

The son of one-time prominent pastor faces charges of wire fraud
By Jon Murray

Five years after Wayne Taft Harris Jr. borrowed nearly $500,000 from a religious group to build a church, weeds and brush still cover the land on a secluded block on Indianapolis' Eastside.

Federal authorities say Harris, the son of a prominent late Indianapolis pastor, skipped out on the loan and moved to Texas after spending about $145,000 on a Mercedes-Benz, a mink coat and a Christian bookstore and its inventory.

A federal grand jury in Indianapolis indicted Harris, 36, this month on two counts of wire fraud. Convictions could bring a maximum 40-year prison sentence and a $500,000 fine, prosecutors said.

Harris lives in the Houston area, where he has been working to start up an online Christian TV network, but he will have to return to Indianapolis to face the charges.

He missed his initial court date Tuesday after what court officials described as a miscommunication. The hearing was reset for next Tuesday.

Public defender Michael Donahoe said Harris will enter a plea of not guilty at next week's hearing.

Attempts to reach Harris on Tuesday were not successful.

Harris' father, the Rev. Wayne T. Harris Sr., was the well-known and sometimes controversial pastor of Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church in Indianapolis. He died of heart disease in 2000 at age 46.

The younger Harris received the $482,000 loan in 2005 from Third World Missions of Merritt Island, Fla., according to the indictment.

The group handles financial matters for associated Christian organizations that run Bible schools and mission trips outside the country and provide assistance for AIDS orphans in Africa. One revenue-generating program makes loans for church facility construction and then plows the interest into its other missions.

Without a dime repaid, Third World's founder says, Harris has directly affected the cash-tight missions' ability to help people.

"He just took off and just kind of disappeared," Bob Bland said. Bland's efforts to visit Indianapolis and track Harris down were unfruitful. "We should not have given him the money."

The grand jury indicted Harris on July 7, and he posted a $25,000 bond July 16 after surrendering in Houston, records show.

A close friend of Harris' father expressed dismay at the news.

"When I saw that, it kind of hit me like a bolt of lightning," said Elder Lionel T. Rush of Greater Anointing Fellowship Church of God in Christ. "I was devastated. . . . I still have an affinity for the father. You always want your friends' children to do well."

Rush said he had not kept in touch with the younger Harris. He recalled that Harris served as interim leader at his father's church after the elder's death.

A few years later, in 2003, Harris and his wife, Verlisia, filed incorporation papers for Kingdom Builders Faith Church.

Verlisia Harris, who also could not be reached for comment, is not accused of wrongdoing in the indictment.

The indictment says that just two days after the loan money came through in August 2005, Wayne Harris used $39,000 to purchase the Mercedes in the name of Ever Increasing Kingdom Christian Center, listing himself as the CEO.

In September 2005, Harris dissolved Kingdom Builders and registered Ever Increasing Kingdom Christian Center as a nonprofit religious corporation, the indictment says.

That name has been displayed for years on a sign posted at the proposed church site at 29th Street and Euclid Avenue.

Federal court records show that in October 2005, Harris and his wife filed for personal bankruptcy.

In the following weeks, the indictment says, Harris spent $105,000 of the loan money to buy a Christian bookstore in Carmel under another name, KingdomComm Ministry Resources. The store has since closed.

He also is accused of using $500 of the loan money toward a man's mink coat with Versace buttons costing $2,000.

The indictment does not say what happened to the rest of the loan money, estimated at $337,000, but Bland was growing suspicious.

Harris sent a fax meant to falsely reassure the mission group in early 2006, the indictment says. The fax blamed an unnamed staff member for misspending the money and said church members had raised more than $70,000 toward payments.

Since then, Harris has moved to Texas. Known in Houston as W. Taft Harris, he has been working to launch Horizons Television Network, which its website says will broadcast inclusive Christian programming online.

It's unclear whether his wife joined him in Houston. The Rev. Mark Downs said Tuesday that Harris took a leadership position last year in a fledgling Pentecostal Christian church group geared toward gays and lesbians; Harris has lived with a male partner, he said.

Downs, a pastor at Heights Presbyterian Church in Houston, said his church allowed Harris' church group and media startup to use its facility until a dispute arose over rent and other issues.

Downs said he had the facility's locks changed after Harris refused to move his operations out of the building.

"He had a lot of good skills," Downs said, calling Harris media-savvy and a powerful speaker. "The problem is that he used them to take advantage of people."