Church Members Repeatedly Break Law To Raise Donations

WBNS-10TV/November 1, 2007

Columbus, Ohio -- A church with a history of felony convictions and members willing to repeatedly break the law to raise donations has caught the attention of City Hall.

As a humid blanket of early autumn air draped an intersection just outside the city, Ed Montgomery wore an orange traffic safety vest and held a white bucket. He was back at it, risking criminal prosecution so he could raise money for his church.

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Montgomery and several other followers were on sidewalks, sometimes in the street, asking drivers to give to the "needy and homeless."

When 10 Investigates' Paul Aker asked Montgomery to disclose the name of his church, he refused by repeatedly asking, "Is you gonna print a lie or print the truth?"

The secret Montgomery was trying to hold back escaped when he was stopped by a Westerville police officer.

10 Investigates has linked Montgomery to a multi-state church organization headquartered in Tampa, Fla., that has a history of felony convictions. Reporters have also established that some members continue to break the law to raise donations for the church.

Montgomery was most recently arrested on a Columbus warrant in mid-September. As he stood in handcuffs, heavy drops of rain pelted his shaved head. Montgomery was wanted for failing to show up at court on an earlier citation for soliciting money from city streets.

Franklin County court records show Montgomery has been convicted at least eight times for improperly soliciting money from the roadway in Columbus and nearby towns. Montgomery has also been convicted of similar crimes in Pennsylvania, according to an online records search.

In 2003, Montgomery's wife was convicted twice in Columbus for the same offense, court records state.

Both Ed and Kimberly Montgomery gave police the address of Indianapolis based International Life Church as their residence.

Columbus police said that they have since stopped enforcing a roadside soliciting law because it is vague.

City Councilman Andrew J. Ginther is considering proposing a change to the law to require all charitable groups to file a permit before soliciting on city streets.

A 10TV investigation has linked Montgomery and others to an Indianapolis-based church with ties to a larger organization that has a history of fraud, stolen property, and questionable financing.

International Life Church sits in a rough-and-tumble Indianapolis neighborhood. Drug users and prostitutes wander streets near the church. They are just the type of people the church is trying to recruit.

"God gives us our own people," International Life Bishop Kevin Morehead said.

The model for recruiting street people was set in Florida.

International Life corporate records filed with the Indiana Secretary of State show that the church was originally based in Tampa, Fla., and went by the name "Deeper Life."

Morehead readily admitted his affiliation with Deeper Life and its unconventional approach. His religious authority came from Bishop Melvin Jefferson of the Florida Deeper Life, Morehead said.

Unlike most mainstream religious leaders, Morehead does not hold any sort of academic degree in theological study. Instead, the admitted former crack user and thief claimed that he was granted his position after studying under Jefferson.

Jefferson's credentials do not appear to be conventional either. According to news reports in Florida, Jefferson admitted he was ordained through the mail.

Jefferson and wife, Brenda, run Deeper Life. They did not return 10 Investigates' calls for comment.

It is unclear how much money moves from International Life to Deeper Life. It is equally unclear how much goes to help church members and how much goes to church leaders.

In a recent interview at his Indianapolis office, Morehead spoke as he sat at his desk, situated across from a 3-foot portrait of Jefferson.

Morehead insisted that his church serves a vital need since it is the only one, he said, that actively recruits and aids society's most disadvantaged people.

His congregation has no other way to tithe, so it collects money on the streets, he said.

"Stop the money, stop the ministry," Morehead said.

While most mainstream churches open their financial statements to the public, Morehead declined.

"I don't have to show you my books," Morehead said.

The refusal to make their books public has raised questions about who is benefiting from the donations.

"Deeper Life, in many ways, seems to be Brenda and Melvin Jefferson's piggybank," said Rick Ross of the Rick Ross Institute, an organization that tracks numerous churches that Ross considers questionable.

Ross said that he frequently talks with former Deeper Life members.

"The complaints are often from people who have been involved in the ministry," Ross said. "They may have stood out at intersections, with buckets, collecting money for the ministry and had no idea where the money went."

Jefferson, other church officials and the church itself were once indicted on numerous felony charges of trafficking stolen property and fraud for a food stamp scheme in 1997, according to Florida court records.

Although Jefferson was not convicted, some church members were in 1999. In a rare criminal finding, the church was also convicted.

Since then, Deeper Life has continued to operate and grow. Current members said that the organization has church locations in Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Kentucky and Virginia.

The Jeffersons live in a Brandon, Fla., home that is valued at $868,172. People who know them said that they have a Bentley parked in their driveway. Neighbors also told 10 Investigates that the Jeffersons have a Hummer, a luxury tour bus and a stretch Rolls Royce.

As for Morehead, he said he is not looking for controversy. The Bishop claimed his church members have been instructed to avoid Columbus. He also said that he has admonished them "not to be aggressive."

Still, Morehead said that he would continue to actively seek donations for the people he helps.

As Montgomery stood nearby in clothes that looked exactly like those that he wore on his ride to the Columbus jail, he said, "I am not asking anybody to trust me. All we're asking is to help people God sends our way."

A final vote is expected on Ginther's proposal later this month, Aker reported.

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