JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Behind a Jacksonville megachurch, a tangled web of money and power is now at the center of multiple lawsuits.
The church has accused former pastor Stovall Weems of breaching his financial responsibility to the church, enriching himself at the expense of the church, and fraud, with claims that he misused government PPP loan money to invest in a risky digital currency called TurnCoin as well as making a $430,000 profit at the church’s expense by buying a home on Black Hammock Island then selling it to the church months later for a higher price.
The church hired law firm Nelson Mullins to do an investigation, which resulted in an explosive report detailing the allegations of financial misconduct and emotional abuse.
The church has been trying to evict him from the home since last year. Weems sat down with the News4JAX I-TEAM last week and was asked if he is worried about a criminal investigation.
“I’m worried about a criminal investigation for them, yeah, I am. And I think if we do a good job with our civil case, I think we’ll set things up where if the authorities want to do a criminal investigation, they can,” Weems said.
Weems is accusing a church board member of financial misconduct which the church has previously denied. Weems hasn’t provided proof but says he has it, telling the I-TEAM a former FBI agent he hired as a consultant is investigating. That consultant previously produced a 16-page report dated August 2022 in an attempt to combat the allegations detailed in a report commissioned by the church released last April.
News4JAX asked former federal prosecutor Curtis Fallgatter to take a look at it.
“I don’t see any real, solid defenses,” he said.
The report from Weems said it’s based on a review of church and legal records and interviews with Stovall and Kerri Weems.
The report said when Weems sold the property to the church at a $430,000 profit four months after buying it that money was part of his compensation package and it’s possible the price had increased because of improvements. It also said Weems had the authority to transfer the ownership of the house from himself to Celebration Church.
“It was…a parting gift,” Weems said. “It was honoring me for my 23 years of service in the church.”
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As for the allegation that Weems used PPP loans to invest in TurnCoin, the report says that if the church’s bank account already had more than a million dollars in the bank at the time, it wouldn’t be an issue. However, the consultant acknowledges he hasn’t actually seen what the account balance was at the time.
Fallgetter says the timing of the purchase could be a defense.
“But it may not even be valid unless somebody looks at the records and finds out. Of course, again, that’s separate from the fiduciary responsibility. Why are you taking church funds and putting them in something that’s dicey?” Fallgetter said.
The report also said Weems had the authority to make other financial moves the church claimed were improper and pushed the church to the brink of insolvency.
“I don’t have a CPA. I’m not an accountant. I’m not an attorney. I don’t know the processes of law and accounting. But I’ll tell you what I do know, I know that church, and the bylaws and the context. I built it, by God’s grace from the ground up,” Weems said.
A spokesperson for the church reiterated they have faith the legal system will produce the correct outcome in this dispute.
The I-TEAM has also confirmed Weems’ claim that an attorney representing the church was delinquent in continuing education requirements for much of last year.
A spokesperson for the Florida Bar said he is under investigation but could not comment on possible punishments if wrongdoing is found. That attorney has not commented on News4JAX as of Monday.