Controversial Bishop Lamor Miller-Whitehead, 45, has been arrested on federal fraud charges after church members alleged he deceived them out of thousands of dollars.
The clergyman dubbed the “Bling Bishop,” who said he was robbed of $1 million worth of jewelry while preaching during Sunday service, may face up to a maximum of 65 years in prison if he is found guilty.
Miller-Whitehead stressed in an Instagram Live after his arrest on Monday that the charges “doesn’t mean” he’s guilty.
“The Bishop is not guilty today, and I’m going to fight it,” he said. “I have a right legal team, and more importantly I have God.”
The FBI took Miller-Whitehead, the senior pastor of Leaders of Tomorrow International Ministry in Canarsie, Brooklyn, into custody after federal prosecutors accused him of stealing from his members who trusted him to invest their money and help them in real estate and later lying to the FBI about those business arrangements.
According to a news release posted by the Department of Justice, Miller-Whitehead has been charged with two counts of wire fraud, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. He has also been charged with one count of extortion, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years, and one count of making false statements, which carries a maximum sentence of five years.
The prosecution of this case will be handled by the DOJ’s Public Corruption Unit.
Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Michael J. Driscoll, assistant director in charge of the New York Field Office of the FBI, unsealed Miller-Whitehead’s indictment.
“As we allege today, 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,” Williams said.
“Whitehead carried out several duplicitous schemes in order to receive funds from his victims. Additionally, when speaking with authorities, Whitehead consciously chose to mislead and lie to them,” he added. “If you are willing to attempt to obtain funds through false promises or threats, the FBI will ensure that you are made to face the consequences for your actions in our criminal justice system.”
Mayor Eric Adams, who once publicly considered Miller-Whitehead a friend and mentor, said the federal allegations are “troubling.”
“I’ve spent decades enforcing the law and expect everyone to follow it,” Adams said. “I have also dedicated my life to assisting individuals with troubled pasts. While these allegations are troubling, I will withhold further comment until the process reaches its final conclusion.”
According to the DOJ, the preacher “sought money and other things of value from victims on the basis of either threats or false promises that the victims’ investments would benefit the victims financially.”
At the center of the government’s case is Pauline Anderson, 56, who filed a lawsuit in 2021 in Brooklyn Supreme Court, accusing the flashy preacher of taking her money to invest in one of his firms.
Her complaint said in November 2020, she gave Miller-Whitehead $90,000 in the form of a cashier’s check. Anderson gave him the money, which she withdrew from her retirement fund, with the expectation her pastor would help rebuild her credit and give her $100 monthly allowances to pay for her living expenses and help her buy and renovate a house.
Miller-Whitehead only paid her the $100 one time in January of 2021.
On May 19, 2021, when confronted about the money by the woman and her son, he wrote in a text message, “And for the record, anything that was given to me is a Donation unless it’s attached to a contract! I was making investments, that’s what I Do!”
The DOJ says instead of investing the money, he “spent the investment on luxury goods and other personal purposes.”
Another person “extorted” by the preacher was a businessman. Miller-Whitehead shook him down for $5,000, the DOJ states, “then attempted to convince the same businessman to lend him $500,000 and give him a stake in certain real estate transactions in return for favorable actions from the New York City government, which [he] knew he could not obtain.”
FBI agents desiring to investigate the allegations executed a search warrant asking to see Miller-Whitehead’s communication devices, he “falsely claimed that he had no cell phones other than the phone he was carrying.” Law enforcement later discovered he had “a second phone, which he regularly used to communicate — including to send a text message describing it as ‘my other phone’ shortly after telling the agents he had no other phones.”
Miller-Whitehead made national headlines over the summer after he was robbed at gunpoint during the live stream of one of his weekly services.
On Sunday, July 24, the preacher was robbed by three men who interrupted service and made him lie on the floor as they picked his pockets, took his rings, crosses, wife’s jewelry, and more.
According to the NYPD, during the robbery, he reportedly lost the following luxury items: a $390,000 Cuban link chain, a $200,000 men’s gold chain, a $125,000 wedding ring, a $75,000 Rolex, a $75,000 Cavalier watch, a $50,000 wedding ring, a $25,000 Episcopal ruby and diamond ring, a $25,000 Episcopal diamond ring, a $25,000 pair of earrings, a $20,000 diamond and emerald cross, a $20,000 Episcopal ring, a $15,000 Episcopal cross and a $10,000 Episcopal gold cross.
Many took note of the expensive accessories, juxtaposing his flashy lifestyle including expensive foreign cars, designer clothes, and huge houses which he splashes all over social media, with how small his congregation is and the low-income community where the church building is located.
A few months later, Miller-Whitehead was in the news again regarding another assault that happened as his service was live-streamed.
On Sunday, Sept. 18, Miler-Whitehead attacked a female who attended the church service because he believed she was threatening him and his wife. During the over two-hour live-streamed service, the woman is seen approaching the front of the church. Miller-Whitehead says she was threatening him, she said she was worshiping.
It was then that he left his pulpit and choked the woman by her neck. After the service was over, the preacher, who was dressed in a Christian Dior jacquard suit, was arrested for assault. He pleaded not guilty, saying he was defending his family. The charge was later dropped.
According to the Daily News, like in the assault case, Miller-Whitehead pleaded not guilty to these federal charges and was released on a $500,000 bond.
A tearful Miller-Whitehead met with his attorney, who explained the terms of his bond package.
The bishop is not allowed to travel outside of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut and has been ordered to surrender any passports and travel documents. Dawn Florio noted that her client did not have a passport and will not apply for one.
Judge Lorna Schofield, who is presiding over his case, told the preacher he is prohibited from contacting any of the alleged victims or witnesses, nor can he open any new lines of credit without first getting permission from the pretrial services.
Florio said her client will abide by the terms but wanted all to know they “are vigorously going to defend these accusations.”
“We feel that he is being targeted and he is being turned from a victim into a villain. Now, everyone was wrong about Bishop Lamor Whitehead setting up the robbery at the church. People were arrested. He had nothing to do with that,” Florio said.”This all stems out of a civil lawsuit that is being handled in civil court and he will be vindicated.”
The preacher said the federal charges are a farce too.
“Ain’t nothing changed. I am still the same bishop,” he said in the Instagram video.