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[Photo: Former Grace Chapel pastor Rudy Holland | youtube.com]

Grace Chapel Church reported an embezzlement of $200,000 over a six-year period to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday. The report comes just over two months after the resignation of its pastor, the Rev. Rudy Holland, whose previous church in Virginia was the subject of an embezzlement investigation of nearly $4 million in the 1980s.

Grace Chapel, located on U.S. 1 just south of Sanford, and Grace employee William Ernest Carver Jr., 68, are listed as the two “victims” in the Lee County Sheriff’s Office investigation report. The report does not list suspects, but according to chief detective Capt. Jeff Johnson, persons of interest are being looked into.

“We’re looking at seven years of bank and credit card records,” Johnson said Friday. “And it involves more than one person.”

The church announced in November that it was having significant financial issues and underwent a restructuring, which involved the resignation of Holland, who told The Sanford Herald on Nov. 9 [registration required], he felt it was “time for the church to make a change … time for me to step aside.” Youth pastor Joel Murr became the church’s senior pastor, and Carver took over as operational manager for the Grace Chapel Ministry, in addition to his previous duties as headmaster for Grace Christian School.

The Herald’s Nov. 9 story went into detail about the church’s financial struggles, sparked, it reported, by the construction of the church’s new facility after a 2004 fire and the economic downturn in 2007 (the investigation report states the embezzlement began in 2007). Grace Chapel’s new facility added an additional 44,000 square feet of space, including an auditorium, classrooms and administrative space for the church and school.

Holland, who was not listed in the sheriff’s investigation report, was pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Virginia in the 1980s. That church went to the FBI in 1988 to investigate the $3.8 million in debt it compiled after issuing unsecured bonds and savings certificates to congregation members who were “encouraged from the pulpit to keep rolling over the investments,” according to the Roanoke Times & World. Holland was the church’s business manager when the congregation’s money was taken, according to published reports.

Virginia state and local authorities found no evidence of embezzlement against Holland or Berean Baptist Church, and the church filed for bankruptcy soon after the ruling. According to a 1988 Associated Press report, Holland “vowed to pay back every penny to the churchgoers, some of them elderly people who claim to have lost their life savings.” The Time & World quoted one of two church trustees who quit after they learned of the church’s financial situation saying “Holland repeatedly put the trustees off when they asked him to go over the books with them.”

A phone call to Murr was not returned Friday, and a woman answering the phone at Carver’s residence on Friday said he was not available to speak.

The Rant will update this story as details emerge

AP Report from 1988

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AP Report from 1988

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