Pastor sentenced to 20 months in prison for swindle

Friday, July 08, 2016

A Brooklyn Park minister was sentenced to 20 months in prison for stealing more than $235,000, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced Friday.

On March 1, Dedric Willis, 40, pleaded guilty to four counts of theft by swindle and attempted theft by swindle and agreed to the prison sentence and to paying $65,000 in restitution. In return, two other counts of theft by swindle were dismissed. Willis is the pastor at Truth Worship Center.

According to the criminal complaint and to his admissions in court, Willis obtained numerous checks for two organizations associated with Aveda founder Horst Rechelbacher: Horst Educational Associates and Rechelbacher Properties. The checks had been stolen.

Between Aug. 16 and Sept. 2, 2013, six checks were deposited at U.S. Banks. Each check came from either the Horst Educational Associates or Rechelbacher Properties accounts and were deposited into one of three accounts—Truth Worship Center, TWC Ministry or TRUC Ministry. All six checks were signed by a man who is associated with the two Rechelbacher organizations and the memo line listed the checks as donations, the complaint states.

However, the signer told police that was not his signature and he never heard of Willis nor the Truth Worship Center. Surveillance video showed Willis depositing the forged checks at several U.S. Bank branches. The three accounts into which the checks were deposited were all managed by Willis, according to the complaint.

Police obtained the records for those three church accounts, as well as Willis’ personal checking and savings accounts. Much of the money was not used for ministry. The records show $175,000 was transferred from the ministry accounts to Willis’ private accounts and $41,500 in cash was withdrawn from all the accounts. In addition, funds from the ministry accounts were used to pay approximately $3,000 in airplane and cruise tickets, $2,000 in clothing, $1,700 in furniture, $1,000 in restaurant meals and thousands of dollars in additional expenses that were not related to church ministry, the complaint states.

A co-defendant in the scheme, 39-year-old Cheri Keltner of Minneapolis, was charged earlier this year and has a pre-trial hearing scheduled for July 28 on six counts of theft by swindle. She is accused of having stolen the checks from her employer, Clifton Larson Allen, and then turning them over to Willis, who coached Keltner’s sons in basketball. In return, he gave her $5,000 in cash, according to the criminal complaint filed against Keltner.

Criminal Complaint (PDF)