By Gordon Anderson | | Additional reporting by Richard Sullins |

A pastor with Life Springs Church in Sanford who has been central in the effort to found a local “Dream Center” to combat human trafficking, addiction and homelessness appears to have pleaded guilty to federal Medicare fraud charges in 2021 and is set to be sentenced later this month, according to court documents.

Daniel Owens of Sanford was charged in September 2021 with “conspiracy to pay and receive kickbacks” in the United States District Court’s eastern Pennsylvania district. A lengthy charging document outlines a detailed scheme to recruit people to undergo unnecessary cancer screening tests. Once the screens had taken place, Owens and other “individuals” are alleged to have received kickbacks from a provider in Florida that performed the tests and billed them to Medicare. Four other defendants are referred to in the charging document as Individuals 1, 2, 3, and 4. Each is identified as living outside North Carolina.

A court order also dated September 2021 indicates the records against Individuals 1, 2, 3 and 4 were impounded, or sealed, to ensure “the confidentiality of an ongoing criminal investigation and the safety of cooperating witnesses.”

Owens is alleged in the charging document to have netted as much as “$10,961 in kickbacks and bribes” between March and April 2020. He pleaded guilty in November 2021.

“Owens, Individual 3, and Individual 4 were part of a network of recruiters throughout the United States, managed by Individual 2, who targeted Medicare beneficiaries with marketing campaigns to induce them to submit to (cancer screening tests) regardless of medical necessity” the charging document reads.

Court documents indicate Owens has been free on bail since his guilty plea, and a sentencing hearing is scheduled for January 24 of this year in Philadelphia before Judge Mark A. Kearney. The maximum penalty for violating the federal anti-kickback statute is either 10 years in prison, a $100,000 fine, or both.

Life Springs Action Team, a subsidiary of Life Springs Church which proposes to build and operate the Dream Center, was the recipient of a controversial $500,000 grant from the Lee County Board of Commissioners in November. The vote has since come under scrutiny for a variety of reasons – first, its speed (the grant was approved the night it was introduced, even after County Manager Dr. John Crumpton recommended further study), and later because it was determined that LSAT did not have necessary IRS approval as a nonprofit entity. That means the county is unable to enter into a contract on the Dream Center proposal until nonprofit status is approved.

There are at least two Daniel Owens in Sanford, but one of the court documents obtained by The Rant shows an email address for Owens matching one he used on the application to Lee County government for the LSAT Dream Center funding. Additionally, the charging document lists Owens as the owner of “People Loving People,” a local nonprofit organization. Owens can be seen in many photos and videos on the People Loving People Facebook page and is listed as the organization’s registered agent on the North Carolina Secretary of State website.

Phone messages and emails to Owens were not answered Wednesday.

The grant allocation issue came before the Board of Commissioners again on Monday, after Democratic Commissioner Mark Lovick requested a discussion on the process by which the grant was awarded and how an entity without nonprofit status approved could be given any funding at all. The following day, LSAT announced in a Facebook video featuring Owens and Dale Sauls, also a pastor at Life Springs that the organization was withdrawing its proposal but would reapply when the nonprofit status is granted.

Daniel Owens appears in a Life Springs Dream Center Facebook video released on Tuesday

Dream Center proponents have noted that the concept originated in Los Angeles. Owens filed with the federal court a request to modify the conditions of his pretrial release in the spring of 2022 so he could attend a “religious seminar” in Los Angeles. Documents appear to indicate Owens was granted permission to leave North Carolina at the time, but whether the seminar had any connection to the LSAT Dream Center project is unknown.