Nearly a year after Grace Chapel Church in Sanford reported an embezzlement of $200,000 over a six-year period, the State Bureau of Investigations is hopeful the case will be delivered to the district attorney “within the next couple of months.”
The investigation — originally launched by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office on Jan. 30 of last year — was handed over to the State Bureau of Investigations in March because of “extenuating circumstances,” Sheriff Tracy Carter said at the time. The case is being handled by the SBI’s Financial Crimes Unit, according to SBI spokeswoman Theresa West.
“The investigation is ongoing, [and] interviews are still being conducted,” said West, who provided the “next couple of months” timeframe. “We will not further comment on the investigation at this time.”
Grace Chapel Operations Director Bill Carver, who’s listed as a victim along with the church in the original embezzlement charge, also said he couldn’t comment on the investigation Monday.
Grace Chapel, located on U.S. 1 just south of the Tramway area, is one of Sanford’s largest churches and is home to Grace Christian School, a K-12 institution founded in 1970. The church moved into a new facility in 2007, three years after a fire damaged its previous chapel. The new building, coinciding with the economic downturn in 2007, marked the beginning of the church’s financial struggles, the Sanford Herald reported in 2013. The new facility added an additional 44,000 square feet of space, including an auditorium, classrooms and administrative space for the church and school.
In November of 2013, pastor Rudy Holland announced his retirement, and the church announced it was dismissing its executive pastor Tim Murr, brother of current pastor Joel Murr, as a cost-saving measure.
Neither were listed in last January’s embezzlement report, though Holland’s previous church in Virginia was the subject of another embezzlement investigation of nearly $4 million in the 1980s. He was pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Virginia, which 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. Holland today is active in social media and is listed on Facebook as pastor of PRH Ministries, a non-profit, faith based ministry.