Law enforcement officials to receive report of missing funds

DALLAS (BP)--Three Rio Grande Valley pastors whose alleged misappropriations of Baptist General Convention of Texas funds once were the subject of an FBI investigation may face further legal scrutiny in the near future, according to a BGCT news release Nov. 29.

BGCT executive board members received a report Oct. 31 detailing how Otto Arango, Aaron de la Torre and Armando Vera falsified records and circumvented accountability standards in order to obtain church starting funds. The BGCT news release did not specify which “law enforcement officials” were being approached to determine their interest in the BGCT report and related documentation.

The full text of the BGCT’s Nov. 29 news release follows:

“Baptist General Convention of Texas Executive Director Charles Wade is going to give law enforcement officials complete copies of a BGCT-commissioned investigative report and all relevant exhibits regarding alleged misuse of convention church-starting funds in the Rio Grande Valley.

“BGCT leaders are attempting to schedule a meeting with law enforcement officials in an effort to gauge their interest in the documents. Convention leaders will share the investigators’ findings ‘in order to explore with the authorities the possibility of them doing a further investigation,’ Wade said.

“The BGCT-commissioned report is 42 pages long and contains the names of people accused of wrongdoing. The investigators examined more than 10,000 pieces of evidence in their efforts.

“The investigation report indicates a portion of $1.3 million in BGCT church-starting funds was misused from 1999-2005 by three pastors in the Rio Grande Valley –- Otto Arango, Aaron de la Torre and Armando Vera.

“BGCT spokesman Ferrell Foster said convention leaders are taking what they feel is appropriate action. ‘We want to work with authorities to make sure justice is done.’

“Convention leaders are considering options to recover funds that were allegedly misused.”

According to the internal report, the FBI initially was contacted about the pastors’ practices in late 2000 and the investigation continued until 2003.

As part of the BGCT internal review, a team of investigators commissioned by the convention discovered that the three pastors had been responsible for planting 258 churches between 1999 and 2005. Those 258 churches received gifts and ongoing support in an unspecified portion of $1.3 million in church starting funds, according to the BGCT. Of those churches, five are in existence today, according to the report.

During the presentation of the report Oct. 31 to the BGCT executive board, an investigator said de la Torre admitted to BGCT investigators that he and Arango had started churches only on paper and then split the money when a BGCT check for church starting funds arrived. Arango said he took his part of the money to pay for printing costs for his church starting materials.

The report said Vera did not cash any checks and had no part in the scheme concocted by Arango and de la Torre. Instead, he misunderstood funding guidelines and misdirected the money away from its intended congregation.

BGCT church consultant David Guel and former Church Starting Center director E.B. Brooks retired from the BGCT staff in the first fallout from the scandal, followed this fall by the resignation of Abe Zabaneh, BGCT church-starting director from 2002-05.


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