Pastor to Pay Back Church Member’s Stolen Money

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A happy ending for a River Valley woman allegedly scammed out of her life savings by her pastor.

Thomas James of Fayetteville has been ordered to repay more than $66,000 after he solicited at least one member of the St. James Missionary Baptist Church for more than a year into investing her life savings with him, according to court documents.

James appeared appeared before Judge Alice Gray in Pulaski County Circuit Court Wednesday (April 24).

James convinced the woman to invest her money to fake securities while he was serving as the associate pastor at the church in Fort Smith, an attorney claims.

“She's a working person who was working for the Whirlpool factory there, and when it closed, most of the money that she gave him was her 401K that she had built up during her time there," said Campbell McLaurin, an attorney for the Arkansas Securities Department who represented the victim.

But McLaurin says his work is not over.

"We anticipate there are other investors, and we'll continue to investigate and reach out to people we think may have invested money with Mr. James," he said.

McLaurin’s department does not have jurisdiction to file criminal charges against James, but he says they will fully cooperate with law enforcement if criminal charges are filed.

According to the affidavit, she gave the money to James to invest into a U.S. Treasury Bond, which state officials said never existed.

"We were able to account for how every penny of that money was expended and saw that basically the money was spent for Mr. James' personal use," McLaurin said. "We know he spent the money on trips to places like New York and Las Vegas. He also went to Miami for a Carnival cruise."

The investigation also revealed that James spent the money on clothing, jewelry and electronics, according to court documents. A judge has since frozen all of his assets.

5NEWS tried to contact James, who lives in Fayetteville, and St. James Missionary Baptist Church for comment. Neither returned phone calls.