Ex-pastor loses plea in church fraud case
THE BELLVILLE Specialised Commercial Crime Court has denied a jailed former pastor from Cape Town leave to appeal a four-year sentence imposed on him for embezzling money from two elderly congregants.
Magistrate Sabrina Sonnenberg found the sentence was lenient, compared to the prescribed minimum of 15 years, and was “by no means harsh”, as Craig Vernon Freeman’s counsel had contended.
On Monday, Sonnenberg sentenced Freeman, a former pastor at the New Apostolic Church in Durbanville, to eight years’ jail, four of which were suspended on condition he repay the money within five years of his release.
Yesterday Sonnenberg said Freeman had faced a minimum of 15 years for fraud involving more than R500 000, but that she had found compelling circumstances which justified a lesser sentence.
Defence attorney William Booth said he would now petition the Western Cape Judge President for leave to appeal.
Sonnenberg also refused an application for Freeman’s release on bail.
Freeman had pleaded guilty to falsely informing two members of his congregation that he was engaged in a development of the farm Rhebokskloof, near Paarl.
By offering them returns of 28 to 38 percent, he duped them into investing in the non-existent development.
Richard Williams- Sims invested R3 350 000, and Deon Scritten R200 000, between July 2006 and January 2007.
Neither received any returns or their money back.
Sonnenberg agreed with prosecutor Jannie Knipe that there was no reasonable prospect of success of either the appeal against sentence, or the petition.
She said a clinical psychologist had recommended a wholly suspended sentence, to enable Freeman to earn a living and repay his victims.
However, she said the psychologist had considered only Freeman’s circumstances, and not all the other aspects of sentencing, as she had done.
She said Freeman had earned a monthly salary of R50 000, and had owned a villa in Durbanville. He also drove a luxury vehicle, all of which indicated he would be able to repay the victims within a reasonable period. – Sapa