Greater Ministries is tagged as an anti-government, hate group


Intelligencer Journal/June 18, 1999
By Thomas L. Flannery

Greater Ministries International, the Florida church banned from soliciting funds in Pennsylvania, has been identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as one of 435 "Patriot" groups operating in the United States.

The SPLC, which monitors hate groups and those who advocate or adhere to strict anti-government doctrines, featured Greater and its founder, Gerald Payne, in the four-page article "Ministry of Money" in the center's spring "Special Patriot Movement Issue."

The article identifies Greater's one-time general-counsel, Charles Eidson, as the former head of the neo-Nazi Church of the Avenger and the anti-government Tampa Freedom Center based within Greater's Tampa compound.

Eidson was convicted in 1993 of dumping spent motor oil into Tampa storm sewers and in 1996 for practicing law without a license.

It names Payne and eight others as unindicted co-conspirators in the federal investigation and subsequent conviction of Emilio Ippolito.

Ippolito plotted to hang a federal judge and conducted other subversive activities within his group "Constitutional Common-Law Court of We the People."

In 1979, Payne was convicted on 12 federal perjury counts for lying to a grand jury.

It also mentions church leader Patrick Henry Talbert, a frequent visitor to Lancaster County to raise funds for Greater.

The article links Talbert to Greg Dixon, pastor of the Indiana-based Indianapolis Baptist Temple, and a key player in the Patriot movement for the past decade.

Talbert is awaiting trial on 42 counts of racketeering, fraud and grand theft for bilking a dozen elderly Floridians out of $280,000, and has been sued by several others for conning them out of $125,000.

Controversy is nothing new to Greater or its leaders.

In March, Payne; his wife, Betty; Talbert and four other church leaders were indicted by a federal grand jury in Florida on 20 felony counts of money laundering, fraud and criminal conspiracy.

Payne operated some of Greater's fund-raising events in Lancaster and surrounding counties for more than five years, according to state prosecutors.

The Securities Commission issued two cease-and-desist orders in the mid-1990s against Greater, but Payne and his entourage continued to trek from Tampa to Lancaster, and couriers for Greater continued to haul cash back to Florida.

Attorney General Mike Fisher's office has stepped in and to join the Securities Commission in asking the Commonwealth Court to stop Greater from soliciting across Pennsylvania.

The court granted the attorney general's request and was joined by courts in California and Ohio. They also banned the ministry from soliciting funds for what they said were unregistered securities.

But Greater persisted, citing the First Amendment's guarantee of religious freedom as a defense for continuing its fund-raising practice.

On March 1, Senior Commonwealth Court Judge Eunice Ross fined Payne, Payne's wife and three other Greater leaders $6.4 million for violating her order.

She also imposed a $2,000-per-day fine against the four. That financial clock, said a state prosecutor, continues to tick.

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