|Church: Sailor Robbed His Flock
By Cameron McWhirter
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
March 27, 2008
Days before pleading guilty to money laundering earlier this month, former legislator Ron Sailor Jr. secretly took out a $250,000 mortgage on the southwest Atlanta church where he was pastor.
The congregation had no idea what he had done, church leaders say. Now, they say they have no idea where the money is.
The deacons of Greater New Light Missionary Baptist Church were scrambling Thursday to piece together what happened and just who was the minister they thought they knew.
"It's amazing to all of us," said Jimmie Evans, chairman of the board of deacons. "We can't believe it."
Sailor resigned his legislative post after pleading guilty March 18 in federal court. Gov. Sonny Perdue on Thursday called a May 13 election to fill the seat, which represents sections of DeKalb and Rockdale counties.
A church trustee began checking records Tuesday after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Sailor had accepted at least $80,000 from a lobbyist in a 2007 land transaction, Evans said.
The board soon learned Sailor had secretly changed church bylaws to make himself chief executive officer, Evans said.
They also found Sailor had borrowed $250,000 using the church's buildings and 2.5-acre property as collateral. Fulton County tax assessors value the property at 2540 Campbellton Road at $369,200.
The security deed recording the debt was filed March 12 in Fulton County Superior Court. Church officials are not sure of the exact date the deal was closed before being recorded. The current status of that debt is unclear.
Officials at Georgia Business Capital, the lender, declined to comment.
Brian Lee, an attorney retained Thursday by the deacons, said he was still trying to piece together what Sailor did and why. The deacons have launched an internal investigation as well.
"The deacons are shocked at the existence of this security deed and we are moving forward with our investigation," he said. "We will help the church in any way we can."
Evans, sighing repeatedly during an interview, said everyone in the church thought Sailor was a great pastor prior to the recent revelations. Sailor, who holds a masters in divinity from Howard University, delivered heartfelt sermons and regularly lead Bible studies with church members, Evans said.
Sailor had led the church for about a year.
"He was a good speaker and a good pastor," Evans said. "He was excellent."
Lee said that Sailor, on the Sunday before his guilty plea, preached a sermon titled "Lord, strip it off me," discussing the recent call-girl scandal that led to the resignation of Eliot Spitzer as New York governor.
Sailor gave no sign that Sunday to anyone at the church that anything was amiss, Evans said.
Two days later, in a deal with federal prosecutors that had been in the works for months, Sailor pleaded guilty to laundering money for a person whom he thought was a drug dealer. The person was an undercover agent for the federal government.
Sailor has been cooperating with prosecutors on a wider investigation of public corruption since his arrest in December, federal officials say. In his plea deal, in exchange for prosecutors' recommendation for leniency, Sailor agreed to not "participate in additional criminal conduct."
Patrick Crosby, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Atlanta, had no comment when asked if the church deal would affect the plea agreement. Sailor and his attorney, Bruce Maloy, had no comment.
The board of deacons held an emergency meeting March 18 and suspended Sailor for two weeks after a heated discussion.
Some called for Sailor to resign. Evans said Sailor offered to quit in exchange for six months' severance pay. The board refused.
Sailor is still technically pastor. The church board plans to meet Monday to decide whether to fire him.
Leland L. Jones Sr., the previous pastor of Greater New Light, said the 200 or so members of the church "are generally hurt. They are stunned and they are angry."
Jones resigned in July 2006 when he was called up by the Army to serve in Iraq.
Jones, back in Atlanta after being wounded, said he was horrified to learn what has happened at his old church. Jones, now a ministerial aide to the dean at Morehouse College, said he considered Sailor a friend.
"But recent events have me quite confused and hurt that things have turned out the way they have," he said. "I don't know the whole story but what I know is bad enough."
He said Sailor has hurt the reputation of all African-American ministers.
"From a black preacher's perspective, it makes us all look bad," he said.
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