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Pastor in charge of disabled man’s money stole thousands for his church, officials say

In World
February 09, 2024

A pastor who was in charge of a disabled man’s finances took thousands of the man’s money for his own personal use and for his church, Tennessee officials said.

David Berry is now charged with financial exploitation of an elderly or vulnerable adult, violation of the Computer Crimes Act and theft over $10,000 but less than $60,000, according to an investigation from the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury.

A grand jury indicted the 60-year-old following accusations that he misappropriated more than $27,000 over the course of nearly 10 years.

McClatchy News could not immediately locate Berry’s attorney records to reach out for comment.

Berry is the pastor of the Praise & Worship Family Outreach Center, and he also owned and operated The Tax Service, officials said in their Feb. 7 report.

In 2011, Berry was appointed “to manage disability payments on behalf of a disabled adult who, because of an intellectual disability, was unable to fully manage his own resources,” officials said.

Berry gave the man $250 on a biweekly basis, which was “usually the only funds accessible to him,” officials said. Berry gave him additional money for other needs when requested, as the man didn’t have direct access to his own account under Social Security Administration policy.

While the man lived on his $250 biweekly funds, Berry transferred at least $9,000 of the man’s money out of his account, directing some of it into his own personal checking account, records show.

He used nearly $900 for dental services for himself and his wife as well as $800 of the man’s money for vehicle repairs, officials said.

He told investigators he would occasionally use the man’s money for “personal use” but said he kept track of the amount.

The Social Security Administration emphasized that representatives like Berry “may not take a fee from the beneficiary for your services as a representative payee.”

One of the greatest expenses was $16,686 worth of checks that Berry wrote for his church, money that went beyond the monthly tithe the man had agreed to donate, officials said. Extra payments to the church began at $164 in 2011, then eventually crept up to more than $4,700 in 2019, records show.

State officials also accuse Berry of “exceeding his authority” by opening an account naming him as conservator using $366,587 of commingled funds belonging to the man and his wife.

He used the money from that account for “questionable” transactions, including for a Super Bowl party loan, gas, retail purchases and meals at restaurants, among others, officials said.

Investigators said they couldn’t figure out which of these transactions went toward the man and his wife as opposed to Berry for his personal use.

Berry’s church in Jasper described the grand jury charges as “totally unfounded accusations.”

“Our Pastor, brother, friend and his wife and family need everyone in the family of faith standing with him now more than ever!” the church wrote in a statement. “The enemy has been trying everything to defame and stop the promotion of the Kingdom of God in our community.”

Jasper is in Marion County, about 30 miles west of Chattanooga.

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