MEMPHIS, Tenn. – A church that wanted to do something special for Hurricane Katrina victims gave a $75,000 house, free and clear, to a couple who said they were left homeless by the storm. But the couple turned around and sold the place without ever moving in, and went back to New Orleans.
"Take it up with God," an unrepentant Joshua Thompson told a TV reporter after it was learned that he and the woman he identified as his wife had flipped the home for $88,000.
Church members said they feel their generosity was abused by scam artists. They are no longer even sure that the couple were left homeless by Katrina or that they were a couple at all.
"They came in humble like they really needed a new start, and our hearts went out to them," said Jean Phillips, a real estate agent and member of the Temple of Deliverance Church of God in Christ. "They actually begged for the home."
The church was also shocked by an ungrateful interview the couple gave with WHBQ-TV in Memphis.
"I really don't like this area," said Delores Thompson. "I really didn't, and I didn't know anybody, so that's why I didn't move in and I sold it."
Thompson, reached at a New Orleans phone number by The Associated Press on Tuesday, thanked the church for its generosity but said she saw nothing wrong in selling the three-bedroom, two-bath house.
"Do I have any legal problems? What do you mean? The house was given to me," she said. "I have the paperwork and everything."
She refused further comment and hung up.
The church had decided that it would do something special for one Katrina-displaced family, in addition to its other efforts to help evacuees. The church set up a committee to find the right family and conducted several dozen interviews.
Delores Thompson, who did most of the talking for her family, told the committee that she had lost her job as a nurse and that her husband had lost an import-export business in New Orleans, committee member Joy Covington said.
The committee also heard how the family had lost its home and most of its possessions and how the children, a 14-year-old girl and 16-year-old boy, were eager to get back in school. The family said it wanted to resettle in Memphis.
After the church settled on Thompson, real estate agent Phillips helped her pick out the house she wanted, and it was bought in Thompson's name. She took possession in February and sold it in September. Property transfer records for the resale list her as unmarried; the papers from the original sale list her as married.
"I feel like it was a sham or a ripoff," Covington said.
The church hasn't discussed legal action, but the members are upset because the house could have gone to a more needy family, Covington said.
Thompson claimed she and her family were living in an apartment supplied by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but did not invite Phillips over during the house search.
"She didn't want me coming over there," Phillips said. "She'd say, `I'll meet you."'
Church member Edward Covington, the real estate agent's husband, said the family had been listed by FEMA as displaced. But he said the church took Thompson's word for it that their house was destroyed.