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Former Christian Science Church Head Guilty in $11 Million Fraud

Feb. 4, 2020, 7:27 PM

The former chairman of a Los Angeles branch of the Church of Christ, Scientist, pleaded guilty Monday to stealing more than $11.4 million from the church and using it to buy a $2 million home and other personal items, federal prosecutors announced.

Charles Thomas Sebesta, the former chairman of the board for the Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud affecting a financial institution and one count of bank fraud. He has been in custody since August 2019, when he was arrested and accused of stealing millions of from the church.

Sebesta, who had control over some of the church’s bank accounts, admitted to writing checks from those accounts to bank accounts he controlled for companies he made up over the course of 10 years. He also forged a church member’s signature to make the payments, and sent money to other accounts in his own name and in the names of his family members and a female companion, according to the prosecution.

He admitted to taking a portion of the money from the sale of a Hollywood church property, which went for $12.8 million in 2008.

Sebesta also wired a total of more than $2 million in church funds to be credited to his personal tax accounts, leading to overpayment refunds, the prosecutions says.

Sebesta allegedly tried to cover his tracks by posing as a real estate developer and then sending emails to church members in which he falsely claimed the developer had been donating money and making rent payments for the building.

In addition to spending $2 million in the church’s funds on a home, Sebesta was accused buying a membership at Disneyland’s exclusive dining club.

Sebesta further admitted to embezzling $36,282 from a private Los Angeles County high school that previously employed him.

Sebesta is represented by Law Offices of Patrick McLaughlin in Los Angeles.

The case is United States v. Sebesta, C.D. Cal., No. 2:19-cr-00463, guilty plea 2/3/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: David McAfee in Los Angeles at dmcAfee@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Nicholas Datlowe at ndatlowe@bloomberglaw.com

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