RIPON, Calif. – For nearly a decade, members of Ripon's First Congregational Church bared their souls to Pastor Randall Radic. But clearly it didn't work both ways. There were certain things he wasn't telling them.
That became obvious a year ago, when Radic pleaded guilty to betraying his flock and secretly selling the church and its rectory out from under them. He used the money to buy himself a brand-new black BMW and a laptop — exploits he later chronicled in a cheeky, almost gleeful blog about his double life as a sinner.
"We didn't know anything until we got a call from the bank that he had bought a BMW," said David Prater, who led the church board during Radic's tenure. "He drove that car right down Main Street."
Irate parishioners had been rooting for a long prison term of up to 16 months at his sentencing, set for Thursday.
But Radic's lawyer said last week that the 54-year-old former pastor, who spent six months in jail awaiting trial, will not have to serve any more time behind bars because he agreed to testify about the alleged murder confession of a jailmate.
In the meantime, ownership of some of the church property is still tied up in lawsuits.
"Most of the congregation, being a good Christian congregation, has forgiven him. But there are still things happening to the church that we can't understand," said Judy Edwards, who took over as pastor last year. "If the parsonage was stolen, why isn't it being returned?"
Radic was a respected figure in Ripon, population 14,000, a quiet town of 1940s-era homes and tree-lined streets just off California's Highway 99, where 18-wheelers thunder down the San Joaquin Valley.
"The church was basically senior citizens, people in their 80s, 90s and close to 100," Prater said. "He was their favorite son."
Radic's pulpit was in a wooden, 90-year-old chapel, and he lived in a church-owned house a few blocks away.
"This is a town with a lot of faith," said Navid Fardanesh, president of the Ripon Chamber of Commerce. "People had a lot of trust in him, and unfortunately he took advantage of the situation."
First, Radic faked documents giving him possession of the parsonage, and used the property to take out about $200,000 in personal loans, prosecutors said. Then he forged papers saying he had the power to sell the church, and sold it to a couple for $525,000.
After investigators began inquiring about the $102,000 BMW, Radic fled to Denver. Prosecutors coaxed him back, and he was arrested in 2005.
It was in jail that Radic met Roy Gerald Smith, a sex offender awaiting trial in the 2005 slaying of a woman in a death penalty case. In Radic's blog on a now-defunct Internet site, the former pastor suggested that as he gained Smith's confidence, Smith confessed.
Radic soon struck a deal: He would plead guilty to embezzlement and be released from prison. And prosecutors would drop nine other felony charges in exchange for Radic's testimony.
Since Radic was not Smith's pastor, the inmate's incriminating statements are not protected by the usual confidentiality rules involving members of the clergy, Radic's lawyer Michael Babitzke said.
As he awaited sentencing from the comfort of home, Radic started blogging about his personal life. He tried to solicit a literary agent for a tell-all book he called "SNITCH" and spelled out the details of how he fleeced his flock.
Describing the proposed memoir as "a kind of new Bible," Radic wrote that "true-crime shall have a container in which to wallow, a boat which, when it embarks, will traverse the major oceans. Like an esoteric prayer, a Catholic confession, a Gregorian chant or a murderer's insouciance, it will hum a tune inside one's bones."
Radic, who still lives in Ripon, did not find a buyer for "SNITCH," but he did sign a deal last month to publish a book called "The Sound of Meat," billed as a "(fairly) truthful" memoir.
"So, you really want to know which camp I belong to ... right? Saint or ... Sinner?" he wrote on his Web page, which features grainy shots of a nearly naked woman and a portrait of Radic smoking and drinking. "The truth really is a lot more complicated. It leads down the winding paths of the human heart and challenges anyone who follows to defy it."
The church got its title back last year, and parishioners have been able to worship there throughout the ordeal. But the church is still out tens of thousands of dollars lost in transaction fees, and has yet to recover title to the parsonage, which is owned by a real estate investor who bought it from Radic. The new pastor, Edwards, lives in a motor home.
Radic still faces a number of lawsuits — by the couple who bought the church, the title company that insured loans on the parsonage, the real estate investor and the former notary public who signed off on Radic's fake deed for the parsonage.
But criminal proceedings against him appear likely to end when he is sentenced.
"He's very remorseful and regretful about the situation," his lawyer said. "I think he made some egregious mistakes. But in an imperfect world ... people behave imperfectly."