Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

NYC pastor is sentenced to 9 years for fraud, including taking a single mom's $90,000

Lamor Whitehead, pastor of a Brooklyn church, has been sentenced to nine years in prison, after a federal jury found him guilty of multiple counts of fraud. He's seen here in 2022, attending the Billionaires Row & Dingers Squad VIPs event in Huntington, N.Y.
Jared Siskin
Getty Images for Jane Owen Public Relations
Lamor Whitehead, pastor of a Brooklyn church, has been sentenced to nine years in prison, after a federal jury found him guilty of multiple counts of fraud. He's seen here in 2022, attending the Billionaires Row & Dingers Squad VIPs event in Huntington, N.Y.

Lamor Whitehead, a flamboyant pastor who made headlines in 2022 when he was robbed during a livestreamed church service in Brooklyn — and then became the target of criminal charges himself — has been sentenced to nine years in federal prison. 

U.S. District Judge Lorna G. Schofield imposed the punishment on Monday, after Whitehead was found guilty of numerous fraud and attempted extortion charges, along with lying to the FBI. Prosecutors portrayed the 45-year-old church leader as a grifter, siphoning money from his followers — and demanding money for what he claimed was influence over New York Mayor Eric Adams.

"Lamor Whitehead is a con man who stole millions of dollars in a string of financial frauds and even stole from one of his own parishioners," U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said.

The pastor's attorney, Dawn Florio, said in a statement to NPR that while "we are deeply saddened by the outcome," Whitehead maintains his innocence.

"We will explore all available legal avenues to ensure that justice is served," Florio said, adding "we will immediately begin the appeal process."

Whitehead was found guilty of bilking a single mom

A jury found Whitehead guilty in March of all five criminal counts against him. During the two-week trial, prosecutors described how in one money-making scheme, Whitehead extracted $90,000 from a nurse — a single mom in her 50s who attended his church — with the promise that the money would serve as both an investment and to provide her with a home. But the pastor spent the money on himself, according to court records.

"I lost everything I had worked for," the church member, Pauline Anderson, said in a victim impact statement.

She has had to pay more than $40,000 in legal bills as she fought Whitehead in civil court, Anderson said. Taxes and fees have also racked up, as she took early withdrawals from her retirement fund.

"The anguish associated with having to repay taxes on funds the accused personally spent while I was left with nothing is indescribable," Anderson said.

In contrast, Whitehead was living in a six-bedroom house in Paramus, N.J. At a recent foreclosure sale, the property attracted a top bid of more than $1.9 million. According to court filings, the pastor's assets also included a two-building apartment complex in Hartford, Conn.

Whitehead had been scheduled to be sentenced in early July, but on May 20, the judge revoked his bail and moved the hearing to this week, after a letter to the court said the pastor was appearing on social media "making false accusations against the prosecutors, the Anderson family, and the FBI, claiming that his conviction was a setup," according to court documents.

Pastor became known for jewelry and upscale lifestyle

Whitehead became the subject of intense scrutiny in 2022, when he was involved in three high-profile incidents.

In May of that year, the pastor mediated a man's surrender in the NYC subway shooting of Goldman Sachs employee Daniel Enriquez. Whitehead turned heads with his ostentatious appearance — wearing a Fendi jacket and stepping out of a Rolls-Royce at a legal aid office — and with his claims of friendship with New York Mayor Eric Adams.

Two months later, three gunmen entered Whitehead's Leaders of Tomorrow International Ministries church in the Canarsie neighborhood of Brooklyn and "removed more than $1 million worth of jewelry" from him and his wife, the New York Police Department told NPR

The robbery took place as Whitehead was livestreaming a service, and he posted videos online describing what happened.

But in late 2022, prosecutors filed federal charges against Whitehead, accusing him of fraud and saying he attempted to extort a Bronx business owner into giving him large amounts of money in exchange for the pastor using his alleged influence in City Hall, under Mayor Adams. And when FBI agents spoke to Whitehead, the indictment said, he lied when he claimed to have only one cellphone.

His church's website described Whitehead as being active in business as well as in the ministry, owning mortgage and real estate companies.

But prosecutors say Whitehead illegally sought to leverage his real estate holdings, filing fraudulent loan applications with five banks seeking millions of dollars. He then "failed to make payments on the loans he tricked banks into issuing," they said.

In addition to the prison term, Whitehead was ordered to pay $85,000 in restitution and forfeit $95,000.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.