Lamor Whitehead preached the prosperity gospel, but federal prosecutors say he meant it only for himself.
The Brooklyn bishop, who made headlines over the summer when gunmen stole $1 million in jewelry from him during a live-streamed sermon, has been charged with stealing money from parishioners and lying to the FBI.
Whitehead, 45, who heads the Leaders of Tomorrow International Church in Brooklyn’s Canarsie neighborhood, was hit with federal fraud charges for allegedly taking $90,000 from a parishioner, purportedly to invest in real estate ventures, but instead used the cash to buy luxury clothes and other items.
He is also accused of pressuring another parishioner into giving him $500,000 for real estate investments, and threatening him into handing over a $5,000 upfront payment when the man expressed misgivings about the deal, prosecutors said in criminal court filings that were unsealed on Monday.
Whitehead is also charged with lying to the FBI when he claimed he only had one cell phone, when he actually had a second that he used frequently to conduct business, federal prosecutors said.
“Lamor Whitehead abused the trust placed in him by a parishioner, bullied a businessman for $5,000, then tried to defraud him of far more than that, and lied to federal agents. His campaign of fraud and deceit stops now,” said Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York.
Whitehead, who lives in Paramus, N.J., was arrested Monday morning, federal prosecutors said, and it wasn’t immediately clear if he had retained an attorney.
The bishop, who preached the prosperity gospel — the belief that material wealth stems from one’s devotion to God — has long been a colorful character in New York’s religious firmament. He was well known for sporting sharp suits and scads of flashy jewelry.
Whitehead enjoyed a close relationship with New York City Mayor Eric Adams when Adams was the borough president of Brooklyn. Whitehead ran to replace Adams as borough president in 2021, but garnered few votes and lost in the Democratic primary.
In July, Whitehead was the target of a brazen, mid-sermon stickup when two masked gunmen ran up to the pulpit of his Brooklyn church. They made off with $1 million in jewelry and high-end watches Whitehead was wearing.
The whole episode was caught by a camera live-streaming the sermon and two men were later arrested and charged for the robbery, although the jewelry and watches weren’t recovered.
But in September, parishioner Pauline Anderson, filed a civil suit in Brooklyn state court against Whitehead, accusing him of stealing $90,000 she had given him in 2020 to invest in a real estate venture, in return for him helping her buy a home despite having poor credit.
In the suit, Anderson said after Whitehead had done nothing to help her secure a mortgage or buy a home by the middle of the following year, she asked for her money back, but he told her that he now viewed the money as a donation to his campaign for borough president.
Federal prosecutors said he had instead used the money to buy luxury items for himself.
A lawyer for Anderson declined to comment.
Whitehead had also made headlines earlier this year when he helped negotiate the surrender of a man accused of fatally shooting a subway straphanger for no apparent reason.