ROME, Ga. – A preacher was found guilty Monday of stealing nearly $9 million from hundreds of small, black churches across the country.
Jurors in the Abraham Kennard (search) case deliberated for only a few hours, after having to start over when one of the jurors fell ill. They had begun deliberating on Friday.
Kennard, 46, of Wildwood, Ga., was found guilty of all 132 counts, ranging from mail fraud to tax evasion. Prosecutors said he ran a pyramid scheme largely meant to take advantage of a tight network of black preachers.
"I know you can see clearly it was a scheme, all right. And for some 1,600 churches, it was a nightmare," prosecutor David McClernan told jurors during closing arguments last week.
Kennard, who represented himself, countered he was not guilty of anything.
"It's not a law against riding in a Cadillac if you don't want to ride in a Volkswagen," Kennard said in his opening remarks. Michael Trost, who served as Kennard's standby counsel, said he believed Kennard intended to help the churches.
About three-quarters of the investments would supposed to be used to build resorts and the rest would go back to the churches that paid a $3,000 fee. But the resorts were never built and, in most cases, the money was never paid out, authorities said.