AME Church Files Lawsuit Against Former Department of Retirement Services Executive Director Dr. Harris and Others for Conspiracy to Defraud and Embezzle Clergy Retirement Funds
NASHVILLE, Tenn., May 26, 2022 /PRNewswire/ -- Today, the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AMEC) General Counsel Douglass Selby confirmed that lawyers hired by the church filed a lawsuit against former AMEC Department of Retirement Services Executive Director Rev. Dr. Jerome Harris ("Dr. Harris") and ten other individuals and entities some of which were involved in a sophisticated scheme to embezzle funds and defraud the AMEC's Ministerial Retirement Annuity Plan. Other defendants named in the complaint are cross-defendant Symetra Financial Corporation, and third-party defendants Robert Eaton, Jarrod Erwin, Randall Erwin, Financial Freedom Group, Inc., Motorskill Asia Venture Group, Motorskill Asia Ventures 1, LP, Motorskill Venture Group, Motorskill Ventures 1, LP, and Rodney Brown & Company. The nine-count complaint (2:22-cv-02136) was filed in United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee in Memphis.
The complaint details a complex scheme perpetrated over more than two decades by Dr. Harris in his role as Executive Director of the AMEC Department of Retirement Services. Along with Robert Eaton and Financial Technologies, LLC, who were retained by Dr. Harris as the AMEC's exclusive broker, and other parties, Dr. Harris is alleged to have used his position to "defraud and steal from AMEC, including using "Department and/or Annuity Plan funds to make payments to himself and other individuals."
As part of this scheme, Dr. Harris repeatedly represented to the AMEC "a deceptive, false, and grossly inflated value for the Annuity Plan." The discrepancy between the value of Annuity Plan funds invested in Symetra reported by Dr. Harris verses the actual value of the plan was significant. The complaint states, "only about $37,000,000.00 of Dr. Harris's previously reported $128,000,000.00 valuation of the Annuity Plan was held by Symetra." There is no evidence that the total value of the retirement fund reported by Dr.. Harris was ever the actual value of the funds. As stated in the complaint, "The $128,000,000.00 valuation reported by Dr. Harris was a baseless representation recklessly and deceptively made to plan participants without any third-party verification."
"This financial crime has been committed against the AME Church community, and specifically our clergy, lay and Church employees," said Anne Henning Byfield, President of the AMEC Council of Bishops. "With the help of our legal team, the AMEC community is committed to holding those responsible accountable and recovering embezzled funds."
The AMEC has also committed to restoring the full initial investment plus interest to each retirement plan participant.
AMEC uncovered the fraudulent scheme following the 2021 election of a new Executive Director. AMEC immediately engaged experienced legal professionals and forensic experts to conduct a comprehensive and independent investigation. The findings of the investigative team led to AMEC's decision to bring this lawsuit against Dr. Harris and other defendants. The actions of Dr. Harris and others are also the subject of an ongoing law enforcement investigation.
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SOURCE African Methodist Episcopal Church