NEW YORK (AP) — A Brooklyn preacher known for his close friendship with New York City’s mayor and a previous stint behind bars was arrested Monday on charges he plundered a parishioner’s retirement savings to bankroll his flashy lifestyle and extorted a businessman by falsely claiming he could lean on city connections to make “millions” together.
Lamor Miller-Whitehead — a Rolls Royce-driving bishop who made headlines in July when armed bandits crashed his church service and robbed him of $1 million in jewelry — pleaded not guilty to charges of wire fraud, extortion and making false statements for allegedly lying to FBI agents by denying he had a second cell phone. The wire fraud and extortion charges each carry a maximum punishment of up to 20 years in prison.
Miller-Whitehead’s “campaign of fraud and deceit stops now,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said. An indictment, returned last week under seal and placed in a courthouse vault, was made public ahead of his arraignment Monday.
Miller-Whitehead, 45, was released on a $500,000 personal recognizance bond. U.S. District Judge Lorna Schofield said he must stay in the New York City area while the case is pending, maintain employment and can’t have any contact with alleged victims or witnesses.
“Bishop Lamor Whitehead is not guilty of these charges,” defense lawyer Dawn Florio said. “He will be vigorously defending these allegations. He feels that he is being targeted and being turned into a villain from a victim.”
Mayor Eric Adams, a former police captain who grew close to Miller-Whitehead while serving as Brooklyn’s borough president, said: “I’ve spent decades enforcing the law and expect everyone to follow it. I have also dedicated my life to assisting individuals with troubled pasts. While these allegations are troubling, I will withhold further comment until the process reaches its final conclusion.”
Prosecutors did not implicate Adams and did not mention Miller-Whitehead’s ties to him.
Miller-Whitehead formed the Leaders of Tomorrow International Ministries in 2013 after serving a five-year prison sentenced for identity theft and grand larceny in a case that he claims was the result of an illegal conviction. Despite preaching in Brooklyn, he lives in a $1.6 million home in Paramus, New Jersey, records show. He also owns apartment buildings in Hartford, Connecticut.
Miller-Whitehead is accused of bilking victims with threats and false promises of a better life and big investment returns. Miller-Whitehead took the money “with no intention of investing it, returning it, or enriching the victims,” the indictment said.
In one case, mirroring a civil lawsuit filed last year, Miller-Whitehead allegedly defrauded a parishioner out of $90,000 in retirement savings by falsely promising to help her find a home and invest the remainder in his real estate business. Instead, prosecutors said, Miller-Whitehead used the money to buy thousands of dollars in luxury goods and clothing.
In the lawsuit, the parishioner alleges Miller-Whitehead told her he considered the money not as an investment, but a donation to his unsuccessful campaign last year for Brooklyn borough president and that he was under no obligation to repay her. The parishioner’s lawyer said they had no comment on Miller-Whitehead’s indictment.
Miller-Whitehead is also charged with attempting to convince a businessman to lend him $500,000 and give him a stake in certain real estate transactions, in part by claiming he help the businessman by obtaining favorable actions from city government on his behalf, prosecutors said. Miller-Whitehead “knew he had no ability to obtain such actions” but claimed to the businessman that they would be making “millions,” prosecutors said.
Earlier this year, prosecutors said, Miller-Whitehead used the threat of force to get $5,000 from the businessman’s company. According to the indictment, law enforcement officers investigating Miller-Whitehead directed the businessman to make the payment in February. The businessman was not identified in the indictment.
Miller-Whitehead’s indictment shows he was already under investigation when he was robbed in July and, prior to that, when he showed up to a Manhattan police precinct in May in a Rolls Royce SUV attempting to negotiate the surrender of a man accused of fatally shooting a stranger on a New York City subway train.
Miller-Whitehead, noting his closeness with the mayor, told reporters at the time that he had “multiple conversations” with Adams regarding Andrew Abdullah’s surrender, although the suspect was ultimately picked up by police outside the offices of the public defender organization that was representing him.
According to the indictment, Miller-Whitehead was under investigation since at least February. That’s when he allegedly obtained the $5,000 from the businessman. In June, FBI agents executed a search warrant for Miller-Whitehead’s cellphones. That’s when they say he lied and claimed he only had one phone. After the search, according to the indictment, he sent a text message from his second phone referring to it as “my other phone.”
In an Instagram post in the wake of the church robbery, Miller-Whitehead defended his lifestyle, saying he’s “going to live his life the way God has it set up for him.”
“It’s not about me being flashy,” Miller-Whitehead said. “It’s about me, purchasing what I want to purchase. And it’s my prerogative to purchase what I want to purchase.”
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