Three years after the NBC10 Investigators first reported that parishioners questioned what their church donations were used for, a Burlington County court found in a civil trial no wrongdoing by the church.
Sisters Dorothy Lutes and Nancy Randolph alleged that Light & Love Evangelistic Center took their joint donation of $48,000 with the promise to build a physical church facility. In the lawsuit, the sisters alleged "misdirection" and "12 years of delay" were used as church pastors earned "a profit of more than $120,000" on land secured using parishioners’ donations.
After a three-day trial, Judge Patricia Richmond dismissed the fraud allegation and the jury found against the plaintiffs on the other two causes of action. The jury ruled 7 to 0 that Lutes failed to prove Light & Love Evangelistic Center breached its contract. The jury found 6 to 1 that Lutes’ sister, Randolph, failed to prove she entered into a contract with the church.
Court records showed that Light & Love pastors, Evelin Dean and Frederick Dean, argued that the parishioners' own tax records showed the donations were "gifts."
“We are still standing,” Evelin Dean said. “The effects of this accusation has taken its toll. We have lost some members. But we are still doing what God has intended us to do.”
In a statement to the jury, the pastors' lawyer argued, “The money donated was used to complete the purchase of land with the hopes of building a new church. Numerous delays occurred and the new church was never constructed. It is believed several members got a refund of their donation.”
Other parishioners confirmed receiving a letter from the Deans saying, in part, that “Light & Love decided to abandon the project” and “Light & Love has offered to return to contributors their contributions.”
Court records showed Lutes and her sister did not get their contributions returned.
Court records also showed the pastors' attorney argued against allowing Lutes and Randolph from testifying at trial because “statute of fraud bars the plaintiff’s oral testimony at the time of trial.”
“I’ve had people call me who saw me on TV thanking me for doing the right thing,” Lutes said. “It did not seem fair the way things went down, but I’m not going to let it control or ruin my life.”
But “blind ignorance can’t shield the plaintiffs from the conduct,” the pastors' attorney, Daryl Winston, argued in court. “Over 10 years had passed and the plaintiff’s took no affirmative steps to challenge or question the land purchased of the lack of a new church building.”
The court agreed that time had expired on any expectation for the church to notify the sisters of the status of their donation.
“Our plans are to continue to do what we’ve always done - feed the poor, support the community, continue to evangelize,” Frederick Dean said.