HOUSTON – A Harris County grand jury indicted a former Houston's First Baptist Church minister Monday for allegedly stealing more than $800,000 from the church.
Jerrell G. Altic, 40, allegedly embezzled the money during a six-year period that ended in November 2017, according to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.
Prosecutors say Altic allegedly spent the stolen funds on overseas trips with his family, groceries and to pay for his doctorate in divinity from Lancaster Bible College.
They added that he stole the money in a number of ways, including forged payments authorizations.
Altic surrendered to authorities around 9 a.m. Tuesday.
After his court appearance, Altic was taken away in handcuffs. His bond was set at $50,000.
Tuesday afternoon, his attorney said he has learned his lesson: "He's actually met with the church and he's asked for forgiveness." said James Alston, Altic's attorney.
Houston's First Baptist Church said they discovered suspicious financial activity linked to Altic in November 2017. When they confronted him, he immediately resigned, the church said.
They turned their initial findings over to law enforcement and began a "thorough investigation conducted by staff leadership, relevant church committees and deacons as well as independent forensic accounting and legal experts."
The investigation revealed Altic, acting alone, used several deceptive and "difficult to detect" techniques to steal the money, First Baptist said.
The church's insurance will cover $500,000 of the total amount. Church leadership approved using unallocated contingency funds to replace the balance.
Here is the rest of the statement from First Baptist:
"... Though his fraudulent activities involved missions funds, all of Houston’s First ministry partners received their designated monies, as his actions did not prevent our church from providing resources to local ministries, church plants or other strategic partners. Nevertheless, we have already enacted additional policies to help ensure all donations and expenses are protected and handled properly moving forward. The outside expertise we sought helped us not only to determine the extent of this serious violation of trust, but also provided recommendations on how our financial controls might be improved or strengthened.
Unfortunately, due to the sensitive nature of the legal and investigative procedures triggered by this matter, we have not been able to provide these details until now. While we were unable to inform the church body because of the ongoing investigation, we informed and kept updated the related church committees, including personnel, finance, and missions committees, along with key staff and the deacon body, throughout this process. These past months have been challenging and painful for us as the extent of Jerrell’s actions came to light and as we wrestled with the tension of wanting to inform the congregation, while also carefully following law enforcement’s lead in the investigation, balancing legal constraints with church procedures.
We are encouraged that our church’s insurance coverage paid $500,000, which reimbursed a significant part of the loss, while our church leadership approved using unallocated contingency funds to replace the balance.
As challenging as this discovery has been for everyone involved, we have also been encouraged by the continued generosity and passion for missions work from our congregation—including through generous, unsolicited financial gifts from those who have come to know of his wrongdoing.
We pray for God’s work to continue to be done at Houston’s First, and for Jerrell and his family. Houston’s First remains committed to the advancement of the Gospel in our city, our nation and around the world (Acts 1:8). We understand and take seriously our responsibility to properly steward the resources God gives us through the generosity of our church family."