I-TEAM: Former Celebration Church pastors sued over $716,123 debt

First Citizens Bank: ‘Defendants have failed and refused to pay’

The former pastors of Celebration Church owe more than $716,000, according to a lawsuit filed by First Citizens Bank.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The former pastors of Celebration Church owe more than $716,000, according to a lawsuit filed by First Citizens Bank.

The 71-page filing said Stovall and Kerri Weems and their businesses have defaulted on payments.

The filing lists the Weemses, Honey Lake Farms Inc., Weems Group LLC and Northstream Management LLC as defendants.

COURT DOCUMENT: Read the complaint filed by First Citizens Bank

First Citizens Bank said, as of May 5, the defendants owed a total of $716,123:

  • $645,281 – owed by Honey Lake Farms Inc. and guarantor Stovall Weems (loan and credit card accounts, plus interest, late charges and attorney’s fees)
  • $50,867 – owed by Weems Group LLC (credit card No. 1)
  • $984 – owed by Weems Group LLC (credit card No. 2)
  • $18,989 – owed by Northstream Management Group LLC (credit card)

“The Defendants have failed, neglected and refused to pay the Plaintiff,” according to the filing from First-Citizens Bank.

The Weemses have until June 12 to provide a written response to the court. News4JAX reached out to a spokesperson for the Weemses who said they would not comment on these allegations.

The Weemses are currently in a legal battle with the church they founded in 1998. They filed a lawsuit for injunctive relief against Celebration Church, alleging a church trustee was improperly billing the church for construction-type services at its Honey Lake Farms property in Madison County and turned the other trustees against him, leading to Stovall Weems’ suspension. Stovall Weems was seeking restoration of his salary and backpay.

Celebration Church filed a motion to dismiss and accused Stovall Weems of financial misconduct, fraud and spiritual abuse.

The church said the trustees requested an investigation into the founding pastors when they discovered the Weemses “engaged in a series of questionable financial transactions without board knowledge or authorization” in early 2021. The motion outlines four areas of concern:

  • Multiple large transfers to new for-profit entities that the Weemses intended to manage going forward
  • Church’s purchase of a parsonage (in which Stovall and Kerri Weems were to live rent-free) for $1,286,863.30 that a company solely owned by Stovall Weems had bought four months earlier for $855,000
  • Advancement of nine months’ salary to Kerri Weems and seven months’ salary to Stovall Weems in violation of Florida statute and the church’s own internal policies, despite neither Stovall nor Kerri Weems performing the duties of the offices that purportedly justified those salaries
  • Improper use of over $1,000,000 in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan proceeds to fund the Weems-managed entity Honey Lake Farms LLC and to purchase TurnCoin, an illiquid, speculative digital currency

A spokesperson for the Weemses told the News4JAX I-TEAM that no PPP funds went to Honey Lake Farms LLC. It said Honey Lake Farms LLC is different than the nonprofit Honey Lake Farms, Inc. and never had a bank account. The spokesperson also said PPP funds were not utilized in the TurnCoin investment.

Celebration Church hired a law firm to conduct an internal investigation, and it released the findings in late April.

“The single word used most frequently to describe Stovall Weems was ‘narcissist.’ Nearly every witness we interviewed used that specific word,” the report stated.

The report said one witness detailed, often through tears, instances when Stovall Weems personally belittled and humiliated them for minor mistakes or misunderstanding Stovall Weems’ “inconsistent and confusing directives.”

Another reported that Stovall Weems instructed an employee to drive to a liquor store late at night and deliver a bottle of bourbon to his house because he “did not want to be seen purchasing liquor.”

Another recounted that an employee was instructed to purchase a car for Stovall Weems and deliver it to his home. “After the employee delivered the car as demanded, Stovall Weems told him to find his own ride home,” the report reads.

The investigation found that many witnesses described “intense personal anguish and pain caused by working for the Weemses.”

The investigative report said there were “Office Hospitality” sheets that were “similar to over-the-top green room riders required by celebrities” and that they “reflected the Weemses’ immense entitlement and self-importance.”

Stovall Weems resigned from his positions in April. He said he resigned because “cannot be legally connected to any church in which the leadership abandons the clear biblical principles and spiritual qualifications for spiritual covering, spiritual authority, and ecclesiastical governance and oversight.”

Tim Timberlake has been leading Celebration Church since last year. He was installed to succeed Stovall Weems months before the legal battle was made public. Timberlake spoke at a service in March, assuring the congregation that the church is OK.

No criminal charges have been filed in this case. A civil court hearing on the case between the Weemses and Celebration Church is scheduled for May 31.

Attorney not affiliated with case weighs in

The I-TEAM talked with a local attorney about what the newest court filing could mean for the Weemses and their businesses.

The former pastors of Celebration Church owe more than $716,000, according to a lawsuit filed by First Citizens Bank.

Attorney Gene Nichols, whose not affiliated with the case, reviewed the document. He says that if Weemses don’t pay back what they owe, their personal or business assets could be seized.

“So you can expect the bank to try to recoup collateral that may have been put up. We know that some of this money was used to buy property, potentially as an investment and or something for the church, and you can expect the bank to try to foreclose on that property,” he said.

Nichols says the Weemses also personally pledged to repay the loans.

“Their own personal accounts and their own personal monies and any assets that they own personally could become an issue and could be something the bank could go after,” he said.

Nichols says cases like these usually are resolved before they end up going to trial.

About the Authors:

Renee Beninate is a Florida native and award-winning reporter who joined the News4Jax team in June 2021.