Georgia has the highest foreclosure rates in the U.S., and churches are not exempt.
Pastor Cleveland Garrison said he "didn't know what to think" over a foreclosure action involving his church property and accuses a ministry of stealing his pews and other fixtures.
Garrison claims that he let a group called Kaleo Ministries use his Augusta, Georgia church and everything in it while they paid for the property. He says that he sold Kaleo Ministries all but the building, which includes the sanctuary, with plans to sign it over to them once the debt was settled. That never happened and when it was time to foreclose, he was shocked.
"First of all, they took all the pews out," Pastor Garrison told News Station 12 as he led reporters throughout the empty building. "They took the faucet off the kitchen sink," he added, showing the kitchen area. Elsewhere, a sink was removed off of a wall and all the furniture in the pastor's room was taken. "They cleaned me out," he said.
Believing that he was the victim of a crime, he called Richmond County deputies to report a burglary, but they did nothing, saying it was a civil matter. The "prophet" who runs Kaleo Ministries told reporters that he had a verbal agreement that he was allowed to keep anything in the church that he fixed or put money into. He said that he and his followers refinished the pews, so they were keeping them.
The security deed stated that Kaleo Ministries could not "demolish, destroy or remove any permanent structure now existing on the premises or make any alteration thereon which would constitute change without the written consent of the grantee." Pastor Garrison thought that meant Kaleo Ministries couldn't take the pews, the sink, or the office furniture.
News 12 took the documents to several real estate lawyers who acknowledged that it is against Georgia law to dispose of a lender's collateral without permission, but those charges require proof of criminal intent. According to an incident report from the deputies, Kaleo Ministries thought that they had every right to everything they took.
Kaleo Ministries referred reporters to his lawyers, who have not returned calls. He claimed that the church was in such bad condition when he bought it that it should have been demolished. He said his congregation fixed it up.
Pastor Garrison contacted his insurance company about the missing property. He was told that it was valued at $130,000. He filed a claim and thinks that he will get his money back. A judge would need to decide the real estate issues.
(The news video will load in 1-2 seconds.)