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Rev. Charles Southall III of First Emanuel Baptist Church has pled guilty to money laundering after defrauding his church, its housing ministries, congregations and a charter school of almost $900,000. Prosecutors allege he used the stolen money to purchase a vehicle and to open an investment account for himself.
Prosecutors said Southall solicited and then stole tithes and donations from church members. In one instance, Southall took a $10,000 tithe from a congregant in 2019, then diverted the money to his own use, according to the release. In another, he solicited donations from church members over four years for charity and church building improvements but converted $106,408 of the donations to his own accounts, the release said.
In total, Southall obtained $889,565.86 through his fraudulent schemes, using the proceeds to purchase a vehicle and to make a down payment for another, according to the release. He also used funds to open and fund a individual investment account for himself, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said Southall would use the money to pay off his credit card bills and cover other personal expenses.
According to NBC News, Southall has agreed to pay full restitution as part of a plea agreement — $687,000 to First Emanuel Baptist Church, about $85,000 to the Spirit of Excellence Academy and more than $110,000 to individual victims of his schemes.
Before his prosecution, Southall enjoyed close ties to some of New Orleans’ political and business elite. Among them was businessman Ashton Ryan, who is facing a series of federal fraud charges stemming from the 2017 collapse of his New Orleans-based First NBC Bank, the local Times-Picayunenewspaper reported.
The Black Wall Street Times reached out for comment, however, Southall’s attorney didn’t immediately respond to our request.
Southall is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 17, 2023. He faces up to 10 years in prison on the money laundering charge.