FBI Investigation Reveals Pastor Embezzled $933,000 from Community Center

It is particularly disturbing when people in positions of trust embezzle money. Recent efforts of FBI agents led to a 37-month prison sentence for a long-time pastor from Tulsa who embezzled nearly $1 million from a community center that he helped start.

Instead of being a vibrant addition to its disadvantaged Tulsa neighborhood, the Cornerstone Community Center sits largely vacant. This is because the pastor of The Greater Cornerstone Baptist Church had full access to the financial accounts of the community center and the church – and abused this access.

Willard Leonard Jones betrayed his community’s trust and embezzled about $933,000 of the community center’s funds to furnish his lavish lifestyle, which included expensive hotel accommodations and gambling. He transferred the money into the church bank accounts and then into his personal accounts.

His crimes began to unravel when church members grew suspicious when he asked the board of directors for more money for the center after its completion in 2012. The members sought an audit that revealed that he had transferred center funds into church accounts. Jones then refused to let the board audit the church accounts, and its members filed a police report.

This fell within the FBI’s jurisdiction because the money was routed electronically through another state during the transfers and involved fraud. An FBI forensic accountant from Oklahoma City was critical to this painstaking investigation, since one account alone had 10,000 entries that needed to be tracked.

In the end, the FBI investigators were clearly able to prove that Jones had not only embezzled the money, but also failed to declare nearly $400,000 in income. The former pastor was charged in federal court with the following crimes in 2013 and sentenced to prison in 2015:

  • One count of filing a false tax return
  • Three counts of wire fraud
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