As Church Expands, Unpaid Debts Accrue

Tampa Tribune/September 22, 2003
By Michael Fechter

Tampa -- While building Deeper Life Christian Church into a national enterprise, Bishop Melvin B. Jefferson and his organization have developed a history of failing to pay bills.

Court records show a pattern of overdue payments on debts ranging from mortgages to credit card bills to taxes and fines.

Church-owned housing and Jefferson's home in Brandon face in excess of $100,000 in code enforcement fines.

Of that, more than $75,000 stems from a 6-foot wall enclosing the home. The wall was built without a permit and exceeds a Hillsborough County height limit of four feet.

Jefferson has not responded to county correspondence concerning the violation, records show.

In addition, Jefferson owes Hillsborough County $25,000 in delinquent property taxes on the house, records show.

However, he won't have to pay future taxes on the home.

He successfully applied this year for a 100 percent property tax exemption based on a declaration from the Department of Veterans Affairs that he is permanently and totally disabled. The declaration does not identify the nature of his disability.

Housing for church members, part of a Deeper Life outreach program that operates under the name House of David, also has been cited often for code violations.

One house at 3114 Nebraska Ave., Tampa, has been cited for plumbing and electrical problems. The church has been cited for operating the property illegally as a rooming house as well. As of Thursday, the unpaid fines and penalties on the house totaled $39,200.

Four other church properties have amassed $55,980 in code violation fines in the past year and five more properties could face fines if pending violations are not addressed. These violations all involve property exteriors and include junk accumulation, termite infestation, broken windows and screens, and roof damage. City inspectors have not been able to enter the properties.

A church-owned tire shop, DLC Tires, owes the state Department of Revenue more than $52,000 in unpaid sales taxes and interest, records show.

At least a dozen other cases involving the church and its leaders appear in small claims and civil court files.

In one, a media company hired to put Jefferson's image on billboards around town sued, claiming the church defaulted on a contract more than a year ago and owes the firm $17,330 plus interest.

Other cases involve overdue mortgage payments and credit card debts.

The church or the individuals involved typically fail to respond to initial court filings, the records show. The court issues a default order calling for payment plus interest. The church then negotiates a payment schedule that appears to settle the matter.

Often the payments don't materialize, and the case goes back into litigation.

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