I-TEAM: Pastor's widow suing church board over $25M in property

Suit accuses Titus Harvest board of trying to take church assets worth millions

By Vic Micolucci - I-TEAM reporter, anchor, Colette DuChanois - Web producer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A popular Jacksonville pastor's widow is suing the board of her late husband's church over a considerable amount of property that is in the megachurch's name, according to records on the lawsuit. 

The News4Jax I-TEAM on Tuesday tallied up the value of all the property in question and learned it's worth more than $25 million. 

After Pastor Rodney "R.J." Washington, founder of Titus Harvest Dome Spectrum Church, died of cancer last year,  April Washington, his widow, said the board of directors for the megachurch kicked her off.

"I just want the opportunity for myself and church family mainly to get back to what God has called us to and to continue this vision that was given over 30 years ago," Washington told News4Jax last week at her attorney's office.

Washington filed a lawsuit against the two-person board of her late husband's parish, claiming the board cut her out of millions of dollars. 

"Unfortunately, this is a story of greed and deceit and breaches of trust," said attorney Bacardi Jackson, who represents Washington.

Washington said she's entitled to the church and other properties that her husband owes she’s entitled to the church and other properties that her husband owned.

Those properties include the East Arlington megachurch at Atlantic and Kernan boulevards, another church on Beach Boulevard and four buildings downtown. There's also the Marble Waters Hotel next door to Titus Spectrum, which the church owns through a holdings listing. 

Using records from the Duval County Property Appraiser's Office, the I-TEAM totaled up the just market value of all the property -- a whopping $25 million. 

"It could easily sell for $30 million or more," said Duval County Property Appraiser Jerry Holland.

Holland said the land and buildings that Washington claims are hers are worth a lot of money.

"If she got a clear title to them, then obviously she could sell them to the church entity, but she definitely would have free title to sell them as she wished to do," Holland said. 

The I-TEAM has learned seven of the nine parcels are tax exempt because they’re nonprofits, meaning the church only has to pay taxes on $3.5 million worth.

Despite that, Holland said, the board of directors has control of the land the church owns. 

"In many cases where there is no denomination, then you don’t have a hierarchy to decide what to do with the property. The churches that are Catholic have a diocese, the Southern Baptist a convention -- they also have a say in the properties," Holland said. "But when there is just a single ownership or a pastor, and a lot of times they can make the decision to sell the property, move to another location and there’s not a decision by a higher authority within the church denomination."

The I-TEAM has been trying to reach the members of the board of directors to get their side of the story and hear what they have to say about the lawsuit, but has been unable to reach them. An attorney representing them said he had no comment.

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