(WSVN) - He was the pastor wanting to open a church. They were parishioners wanting to help him. They say they let the pastor use their credit cards and they financed furniture for the new church, and now, they can’t get their money back. Patrick Fraser has our nightteam special assignment report: Praying for Payment.
First let’s hear from the parishioner.
Marie Celestin, former parishioner: “He walks a good walk, he talks the right way, he says all the right things.”
Marie and her husband Jean are deeply religious, and when Pastor Pierre St. Louis wanted to open a church in Miramar, they were ready to help.
Marie Celestin: “He asked to use our credit card, so we agreed to let him use the cards, but the deal was he would pay us back once he received his tax return.”
The pastor found an old sub shop for his church. To get it ready, Marie showed us a list of credit card receipts as she says they went with the pastor to charge $21,000 on their eight credit cards.
Marie Celestin: “He used the cards at Office Depot to buy supplies, at Wal-Mart to buy TVs. I used my Amazon credit card for flags, garbage can, toilet paper.”
The church also needed a pulpit, chairs, a piano. Marie says the pastor again asked for their financial help.
Marie Celestin: “The furniture was financed — financed under my name because he could not qualify.”
The furnishings cost $40,000.
Eglise Tabernacle in Miramar opened and Marie says she and her husband went to the pastor to ask him to pay off their $21,000 credit card bill and to make the monthly payments on the $40,000 in furniture.
Marie Celestin: “I asked him for the money. He doesn’t have a way to pay, so he’s not entertaining the thought of paying us back.”
Marie showed us these texts she says came from her husband telling the pastor, “I’m facing a difficult situation,” “debt collectors.”
She says the pastor responded, “I understand your credit is affected, but God will show me a way to get out of this situation.”
When the bills weren’t paid, Marie’s husband texted, “You should be ashamed to have me paying your debts.”
The pastor replied, “You are callous,” “You don’t know what social rank you belong to.”
The pastor then sent a cease and desist letter to stop Marie and her husband from communicating with him. They in turn sued the pastor and his church to get what Marie said was the $60,000 that was owed to them.
You have heard from the parishioner, now let’s hear hear from the pastor, who hired an attorney to tell his side for him.
Sanford Topkin, attorney: “And her responses are consistently, ‘I love you’ ‘Why can’t I be with you.'”
Pastor Pierre St. Louis sat next to Sanford Topkin. They blame this on Marie.
Showing us texts, they say, she sent the pastor telling him over and over that she loved him.
Sanford Topkin: “She is a woman’s scorn. She is looking to take out her anger at somebody.”
Marie says there was no attempt at an affair and the pastor created those texts to hurt her marriage. Impossible says Topkin.
Sanford Topkin: “There is no program that allows you to send a message from someone else’s phone, and then somehow hack a phone.”
But as I pointed out to both men, Marie’s husband, who also supplied the money and is suing to get it back, is not a woman scorned.
Sanford Topkin: “He is furious at the pastor. He believes that the pastor and wife got too close in their friendship. We believe that she was trying to have an affair with him.”
Topkin says the church will repay the $40,000 for the furniture. He showed us a repayment plan with the company that supplied it.
Sanford Topkin: “We did want to make good because we did have the furniture.”
As for the $21,000 in credit card bills… Topkin says if Marie can show receipts that prove it was for church items, they will repay it. But he doubts she can.
Sanford Topkin: “And there is no documentation to indicate that any of those purchases were for the church. Toilet paper? How do we know what she bought that for?”
And the lawsuit continues.
Sanford Topkin: “We don’t need litigation, we don’t want litigation.”
Embarrassing for the pastor and his church. Painful for Marie and her husband, praying for payment from a pastor they once admired.
Marie Celestin: “I hope the Jesus that he’s claiming to serve talks to him, and he finds a place, a little place in his heart, to pay us the money back.”
What happened between the parishioners and the pastor? Only God knows, but a judge may have to decide.
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