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Article updated: 12/19/2013 2:36 PM

Naperville pastor sentenced to 12 years for stealing from congregation

Howard Richmond

Howard Richmond

 
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A Naperville pastor accused of bilking his flock out of more than $1.6 million has been sentenced to 12 years in prison for an elaborate bribery and forgery scheme.

Howard Richmond, 53, pleaded guilty in August to one count of continuing a financial crimes enterprise and one count of forgery for stealing more than $1.6 million worth of donations and investments intended for his Aurora church, Life Reach Ministries.

Between October 2006 and November 2012, Richmond borrowed money from relatives and other acquaintances, including members of his church, claiming he would use it to build new churches.

When soliciting loans from his victims, Richmond showed forged bank documents that falsely showed he had multimillion-dollar bank accounts, from which Richmond promised he would repay them, often with interest.

Instead, Richmond spent the money on luxury hotels, cars, vacations, clothing and limousine services. His scheme was uncovered by Aurora police after some of the victims contacted authorities with complaints.

DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin applauded the sentence Thursday. He said Richmond's actions represented the largest theft committed by a single person that he has seen in DuPage County.

"Whether these people were in a vulnerable state in their lives or not, they were vulnerable just because they were around (Richmond). He had an incredible method of talking to convince these victims to give him, in some cases, their life savings," Berlin said. "He took advantage of the trust that these parishioners placed in him. That's the real aggravating factor here."

Prosecutors have said the deception began in October 2006 when Richmond persuaded a Naperville bank worker to accept $200 bribes in exchange for falsified documents indicating he and his church had as much as $56 million in reserve. The bank employee produced as many as seven letters, which Richmond then used to solicit sizable loans for a church expansion from unsuspecting churchgoers and other supporters,

In a related scheme, Richmond went to a second bank and deposited checks made out for millions of dollars, prosecutors said. The bank quickly canceled the checks for insufficient funds -- but not before Richmond obtained paperwork indicating he had deposited the money.

In addition to his prison sentence, Richmond was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $1.65 million to 24 of his victims, though Berlin suggested that money may never be returned.

"We have his $150,000 in bond that he has posted and that will be used for restitution," Berlin said. "But that is far short of what he is required to pay."

Richmond will be required to serve half his sentence before being eligible for parole.

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