Preliminary hearing held in case against Rev. Arthur Pearson

5:58 PM, Feb 3, 2012   |    comments
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Stephon Blackwell, chair of the board of trustees for Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church, testifies during a preliminary hearing in the embezzlement case of Rev. Arthur Pearson.

GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) -- Testimony began in Kent County District Court Friday in the embezzlement case against Reverend Arthur Pearson.

The preliminary examination revealed new details into charges against the West Michigan pastor who is accused of embezzling up to $100,000 from his church, Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church.

The hearing will continue at another date after a full day of testimony.

The first person to take the stand was the Chair of the Board of Trustees at the church, Stephon Blackwell.

On Friday afternoon, Blackwell testified Pearson told him "that he took $20,000 dollars in 2010 for himself and $25,000 in 2011 for himself - that's what he told us what he took."

Blackwell says he and the board first noticed something was wrong when they sat down to do Reverend Pearson's annual evaluation in April 2010.

They noticed certain dates and signatures on Pearson's contract were whited out.

Blackwell says he called Pearson the same day, who said he was out of town and he'd deal with it when he got back.

Blackwell says the Reverend set a time to meet with the board of trustees in the church library a week later.

"He told me from here on out, he and Ms. Bailey were taking care of the finances and that if the trustees wanted or needed any monies for whatever, that they would check with them first," Blackwell told the court during his testimony.

Blackwell says after that meeting, communication stalled. He and the pastor would walk by each other in the hallway and not even speak. That went on for almost a year until it was time for Pearson's next evaluation in April 2011. That's when he says he learned Pearson had taken reign of the church's financial books.

When the two sat down to talk, Blackwell testified that he asked Pearson if he gave himself a raise.  He says Pearson told him, 'I got it handled, don't worry about it.'

Pearson's attorney tried to paint a picture of a church without strict rules and financial safeguards.  Allen Wolf asked Blackwell about the $300,000 charter bus a previous pastor, the Rev. Maurice Jones had purchased.  Wolf also questioned why the church would buy Jones a car.

Testimony in the prelimary exam will continue on another day.

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