FORT LAUDERDALE — The former pastor of Living Word Community Church in Lauderhill was acquitted of a charge accusing him of stealing from his former congregation this week. Rev. Allen B. Jackson, 44, was charged with a single count of grand theft, a felony that carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison.
After the prosecution rested its case, Broward Circuit Court Judge Bernard “Bernie” Bober granted a defense motion for an acquittal without Jackson’s attorney having to put on a defense. Jackson wept as the judge agreed there was no evidence to support the criminal charge and granted the defense’s motion.
“I was overjoyed,” Jackson said following the ruling. “I was arrested and placed in a jail cell, accused of stealing from my own church. It was humiliating and it tainted my reputation in this community and among my congregation, but after 19 months it’s over.”
Pompano Beach attorney Johnny L. McCray Jr. represented Jackson. He attacked the prosecution’s case as being without merit and argued there was never any theft at all.
“I think this trial was an abuse of the judicial system and a waste of time and taxpayer’s money,” McCray said in an interview. “The state attorney’s office never should have pursued this case. My client was never fired, he didn’t steal anything, and they knew that.”
The controversial case began shortly after Jackson took the helm of the 600-member church in 2009, when he noticed checks were being paid to his predecessor.
He questioned board members, who would only tell him that the checks were being paid to the former pastor out of profits generated by the church’s daycare. Jackson contends he questioned the legality of the payments.
Eventually an assistant pastor filed a lawsuit seeking an accounting of the daycare proceeds after board members refused to provide further explanations. On February 21, 2010, Jackson announced to congregants that a lawsuit had been filed against board members seeking an accounting of the daycare proceeds.
The following day some of the board members voted to terminate Jackson and called police stating they wanted him escorted off church grounds. Jackson reacted by withdrawing $13,500 from the church’s operating account, $12,400 of which was placed in a trust account with the church’s attorney to settle any outstanding issues related to his separation.
The remaining $1,100 was the portion of his $1,300 weekly salary that had not been direct-deposited into his checking account that week, as it should have been.
After severance negotiations broke down, board members said Jackson was not authorized to withdraw the money from the church’s bank account. A police report was filed accusing him of theft and Lauderhill Police arrested him a short time later.
Calls made to the church on Wednesday seeking comment were not returned, but Jackson’s attorney said they would seek to negotiate a resolution of the outstanding matters with the church.
“This was a serious miscarriage of justice. Allen was degraded and humiliated and he has gone through a lot,” McCray said. “This is a simple case and we are fully prepared to file lawsuits if necessary.”