2 church leaders admit to operating tax fraud scheme

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Two high-ranking members of a New York-based church pleaded guilty Wednesday to a scheme to siphon millions of dollars from church members for personal use and not pay taxes on the money.

Jermaine Grant and Lincoln Warrington, both of New Jersey, each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States. An indictment alleged Grant, leader of the Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ, took nearly $3 million in church money with the help of Warrington, the church's primary treasurer.

According to the indictment, the men funneled money through Black Icon Entertainment, a company with offices in Hackensack, New Jersey, New York and Beverly Hills, among other locations. The company was allegedly created to give the impression that Grant was a successful entertainment mogul.

Grant used the money for real estate, a Kawasaki recreational vehicle, a $32,000 trip to Disneyland and various luxury items. He also used it to pay for some of his children to attend private school, to which they were driven in a chauffeured Mercedes, according to the indictment.

The U.S. Attorney's office estimated the duo failed pay at least $250,000 in taxes on the money.

The fraud conspiracy charge carries a maximum prison sentence of five years, but both defendants are expected to receive a term of no more than 30 months under their plea agreement when they are sentenced in July.

The plea agreement also requires the church to develop a plan to comply with federal tax laws in the future.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors extremist groups in the U.S., lists the church as a black nationalist hate group. A phone number listed for the church in New York wasn't in service Wednesday.