Scam artist 'one of the most ... likeable guys you'll ever meet'
The bivocational pastor of Crossroads Fellowship Church in Thomasville, Ga., was on the job as a critical care paramedic for South Georgia Medical Center in Valdosta, when he responded to a call from a Lowndes County deputy in January 2004. The officer had pulled over a couple and the gentleman needed to be checked for problems relating to high blood pressure.
The happenstance meeting would result in a yearlong ordeal for Souders. At the time he had no way of knowing that Carl Heslop, the man being tended to, was under investigation for defrauding churches from Canada to Oklahoma and Texas, over to Tennessee, Georgia and Florida. In the process, churches had been bilked out of several hundred thousands of dollars.
Heslop is "very smart, knowledgeable and intelligent," said Special Agent Mike Giddens of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. "If he gets someone to trust him, he can reel them in quick."
Giddens said Heslop has a history of approaching churches under the guise of a group called the Pioneer Caribbean Team, talking them into donating money to help build facilities for Bible colleges in his native Jamaica. At the same time, he also offers to invest the church's money in crops such as sweet potatoes to bring a hefty financial return.
The catch, though, is no return on the investment ever materializes.
While Heslop's blood pressure was being monitored at the traffic stop, Souders chatted with Carl's wife, Telly. Souders mentioned his congregation and told the couple that if they ever needed anything to stop by the church.
A couple of weeks later they did.
Heslop told Souders how he was from a prestigious family in Jamaica and his father was the head of a large church. Heslop also told Souders that God wanted him to partner with Crossroads Fellowship.
"He was probably one of the most believable, personable, likeable guys you'll ever meet," Souders said. "There was no obvious deception in him."
That night, Heslop shared with Souders and his wife, Patricia, his dreams of building a Bible college in Jamaica. He said Crossroads was unique and reiterated his desire for the respective ministries to partner together.
Fortunately, no funds from the church were ever given to Heslop. The biggest drain over the course of last year, Souders said, is the mental exhaustion from dealing with the situation.
"During that year Carl and I played phone tag mostly. He offered to fly church members and myself to Jamaica to meet people and for me to preach."
Each time the dates were marked down, they would be cancelled, resulting in Souders' juggling his own personal ministry schedule in Thomasville.
In subsequent correspondence, Heslop continued to encourage Souders to partner with his ministry.
"I think God wants you to be financially free so you won't have to work in the ambulance service," Heslop wrote. "God wants to do something great in your life and bless you financially."
Unknown to Souders, Heslop also was in touch with Pastor Jim Fleming of Collierville (Tenn.) Bible Church, located 32 miles southeast of Memphis.
Heslop apparently had found the church in the Yellow Pages. He presented himself to Fleming as an influential businessman wanting to partner with the church for a community development project in the Caribbean of planting Bible schools and churches.
Heslop encouraged church representatives to come to the Caribbean and work with his ministry, asking them to contribute $4,000 to pay for an hour of private jet time to meet with the Pioneer Caribbean Team.
Although suspicious -- "We all had our antennae up," Fleming said -- the kicker in not cooperating with Heslop came when he was spotted in Collierville during a week he was supposed to be in Jamaica.
Collierville Bible Church's dealings with Heslop didn't last long -- only about a month -- before Fleming placed a final phone call to Heslop telling him of the church elders' collective decision not to work with him.
"You could not ask for a person more gifted to deceive the body of Christ," Fleming said.
Meanwhile, Souders, growing more cautious over the whole affair, was searching for information over the Internet and even checking with the Jamaican government, but to no avail. He got a break when a search finally produced a link to Fleming's church in Tennessee, which had posted a notice about Heslop. A phone call to Fleming confirmed Souders' suspicions.
On Dec. 20, Heslop called and said how he was looking forward to Souder and his wife coming to the Caribbean over Christmas. Souders, however, was preparing to post a notice on the Internet as a warning about Heslop.
Two days after the notice was posted, Special Agent Giddens called the pastor.
After the posting, Souders received one final angry phone call from Heslop in early January. During the conversation Souders recounted Heslop as saying, "I could tell you that I've been doing this in 35 states and what are you [or your government] going to do about it?"
Heslop went on to tell Souders how he has proof of indiscretions committed by pastors around the country and will make it public.
"You're going to give an account for what you've done," Heslop told Souders.
Heslop currently is a fugitive. Giddens is investigating 15 cases involving Heslop but said the total number of Heslop's victims is unknown. Giddens was last seen in Dallas in early February.
"He victimizes pastors. They trust God and they trust this guy. He knows how to preach. He's very convincing. He stays in people's homes and cooks dinner for them. He always wants everything in cash, so there's no paper trail."
Churches should take precautions, Giddens said. "Churches are generous by nature. These guys prey on your faith. Beware of individuals from other countries with investment opportunities. Make sure there are several people involved before making investments."
Scott Barkley is production editor of The Christian Index, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention, on the Web at www.christianindex.org. Used by permission. For more information or to report a possible sighting of Carl Heslop, contact Special Agent Mike Giddens in Orlando, Fla., at (407) 540-3881 or firstname.lastname@example.org.