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Houston Megachurch Pastor Sentenced to Prison Over $3.5M Fraud Scheme

Church leaders believe entrepreneurial pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell already accounted for the wrong by apologizing and repaying investors.
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Houston Megachurch Pastor Sentenced to Prison Over $3.5M Fraud Scheme
Image: David J. Phillip / AP
Kirbyjon Caldwell

A Houston megachurch has sided with its longtime pastor, Kirbyjon Caldwell, and expressed disappointment in a recent sentence that will send him behind bars for six years for his role in a fraudulent investment scheme.

After Wednesday’s sentencing in federal court in Shreveport, Louisiana, the leaders of Windsor United Methodist Church defended Caldwell, who has served the church for 38 years but gave up his title as senior pastor when he pled guilty in the faulty Chinese bonds case last year.

“We’re very disappointed that Caldwell’s contributions to society and his extraordinary efforts to make every victim whole resulted in [this] sentence,” said Floyd J. LeBlanc, chairman of the church’s personnel committee. “We look to God because we believe God has a final answer in everything.”

Caldwell, a spiritual adviser to President George W. Bush, was known for his entrepreneurship and philanthropy. Through the predominantly African American church and his own projects, he invested millions into community development and job creation in southwest Houston.

The fraudulent scheme, which totaled $3.5 millions of bonds targeting elderly investors, has led to him and his Louisiana-based investment adviser being charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud; both pleaded guilty.

In a video on behalf of the church staff, LeBlanc blamed the adviser and emphasized that Caldwell was also a victim in the scheme, having first invested in the Chinese bonds himself. The church believes that his generosity and desire to pay back victims had already accounted for the wrong he’d done.

UM News reported that before his sentencing, the 67-year-old pastor told the judge, “This experience has brought me to the valley of disgrace and dishonor. I’m ashamed of my actions.”

Caldwell said he has repaid his victims more than $4 million, including over $1 million prior to the 2018 indictment.

According to UM News, Caldwell’s lawyers “pleaded for him to be confined to his home, rather than going to prison, citing his ongoing treatment for prostate cancer, as well his hypertension and the threat COVID-19 poses for those incarcerated with underlying conditions.” The judge deferred his report date to June.

The 16,000-member church is currently led by pastor Suzette Caldwell, Kirbyjon’s wife. Both have been outspoken and involved in ministry throughout the pandemic, including each preaching the last two weekends.

United Methodist Bishop Scott Jones offered his prayers in a statement after sentencing and acknowledged the pastor’s “sincere expression of remorse.”

The church’s statement concluded by saying, “The Lord will see our Church Family through this season. Let’s continue to have faith and pray together. Be encouraged by Psalm 30:5, which promises that joy will follow sorrow.”

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