Dr. Charles J. Southall, the executive pastor of First Emmanuel Baptist Church, was charged in September with laundering proceeds through a wire fraud scheme, according to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). The 64-year-old minister has been the lead pastor at the church since 1989.
In 2019, Southall took a $10,000 tithe from one of the congregants and deposited the money into his personal accounts. Between 2016 and 2020, he took multiple donations totaling around $106,000 from another member that was intended for charity and building improvements and moved the funds to accounts for his personal expenses.
Southall used another $150,000 of proceeds from the church’s rental properties that it used to provide low-income housing and used the money for his own purposes without the church’s knowledge, the DOJ said. He also schemed to defraud the church by causing its properties to be sold and directing a portion of the profit to himself.
“In total, Southall improperly caused approximately $537,805.51 of profit from the sale of FEBC-owned real properties located on Amelia Street, Fourth Street, and Baronne Street to be diverted to Southall’s personal benefit improperly and without authorization,” the DOJ wrote.
In 2013, Southall hired someone to consult about starting a sister school in Baton Rouge to the church’s Edgar P. Harney Spirit of Excellence Academy. The consultant was paid $220,000, which was all deposited into an account Southall shared with the person he hired. Some of that money was then used to pay Southall’s personal credit card bills.
Along with making payments on credit cards, Southall used some of the nearly $900,000 to buy a vehicle and purchase tickets and other items.
In his plea deal, the pastor agreed to pay over $85,000 in restitution to Spirit of Excellence Academy, and repay $10,000 to one of the victims he laundered money from and more than $106,000 to another victim. Southall faces up to 10 years, three years of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine. He will be sentenced on January 17.