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Wednesday, Jul 23, 2014

Ex-pastor accused of bilking $150K

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The former pastor of a south St. Petersburg church who also founded a foreclosure-prevention company was booked into the Pinellas County Jail this week, accused of swindling nearly $150,000 from a Palm Harbor woman who no longer could afford to live in her house.

Demetrius Antonio Lewis, 38, of Wesley Chapel, was charged with grand theft and money laundering. Bail was set at $200,000.

Lewis once was the pastor at the Grand Central Progressive Missionary Baptist Church, 1401 18th Ave. S., but it has been years since he officiated there, parishioners say. Records show he also incorporated a business called Help Is Here Foreclosure Prevention and Credit Repair, though state records show the company as inactive.

The charges against Lewis are just his most recent brush with the law.

Last year he was charged with tax fraud after investigators maintained he received and cashed fraudulent tax refund checks issued in the names of eight different people.

And the year before that, he was accused of taking part in a real estate scam in which authorities say he and an accomplice rented vacant properties they did not own.

In the Pinellas case, Lewis had an alleged accomplice, Eric Leroy Green, the head of the south St. Petersburg charity Everyone’s Youth United, court records state.

Green was arrested in June on the same charges leveled against Lewis, in what was the latest spin in the charity’s downward spiral. Everyone’s Youth United lost most of its funding in 2008.

On Wednesday, in a telephone interview, Green distanced himself from Lewis, portraying himself as a victim of one of Lewis’s schemes.

“We just happened to be in the trail that he, you know, rode down and used us after coming up with one of his schemes ... and unfortunately implicated us as we now know.”

According to court documents, Green told Pinellas sheriff’s Detective David Kavanagh the two men’s financial arrangement was set in motion after he discussed Everyone’s Youth United’s financial turmoil with Lewis.

The victim was Dorothea Giordano, who by 2010 no longer could afford to live at her house at 2492 Glenpark Road in Palm Harbor, court documents show. A close friend of Giordano’s, Jack Dvorak, agreed to buy it from her but allow her to continue living there.

Giordano had been introduced to Lewis, who identified himself as an expert in real estate short sales, and who offered to broker the sale.

As the deal was progressing, the pastor communicated with a Safety Harbor title company, Online Title Services, which was run by real estate agent Cheryl Slaughter, the court documents state. He introduced a woman to Slaughter as a representative of Giordano’s bank, Allied Home Mortgage.

The woman, identified as Tamkea Womack, sent Slaughter an email indicating Allied had approved the short sale, as long as the amount to settle the mortgage was $143,500, the documents state.

The money was to be disbursed to an entity called EYU Inc. EYU was represented as an investor, but is the acronym for Everyone’s Youth United, the documents state.

After the money changed hands on Sept. 27, 2010, Allied Home Mortgage told Slaughter the woman and the company she supposedly was representing, M Caster Home Finance, were not affiliated with Allied, and the money had been improperly disbursed, the documents state. Slaughter called the sheriff’s office.

After the $143,500 was transferred, Green wrote checks totaling more than $10,000 — a check for an employee for $1,000 and a check of $9,700 for Construction Specialties, which is owned by his mother, records show.

He also arranged for his mother to deposit $60,000, telling her the money was a payment to Everyone’s Youth United for a fair he had put on for an organization. Green put the money in his personal account, according to investigative records. Green also got a cashier’s check of $59,000 for Lewis, the documents state.

sthompson@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-6504

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