JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The founder and former pastor of Celebration Church is firing back against accusations of fraud and misconduct.
The church released a 22-page investigative report on its website, which claimed Stovall Weems used church money to line his own pockets.
“They were judge, jury, executioner. We cannot find one thing in that entire report that would be true,” Pastor Stovall Weems told Action News Jax’s Robert Grant. “This is a couple people trying to cover up their own fraudulent behavior and really an evil scheme to seize power.”
Twenty unnamed witnesses used words like “narcissistic” to describe the man they said created a “culture of fear and intimidation,”
One witness recalled an employee being told to buy him a bottle of bourbon because “he did not want to be seen purchasing liquor.” Another witness recalled someone being told to buy Weems a car and deliver it to him then “find his own way home.”
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Pastor Weems and his wife, Kerri, resigned from their positions April 15. Action News Jax asked Weems about the character attacks.
“It’s horrible. It’s repulsive. We’re so far past Christian. We’re just into basic human decency. And they did these things. They seized the church illegally and they shouldn’t have done it,” he said.
The investigation, conducted by Nelson Mullins, a South Carolina law firm with a Jacksonville office, also alleges the Weems owe the church a total of more than $3.3 million.
In September 2020, the report claims Weems spun off several ministries as standalone corporate entities and had requested a $14 million credit line to fund real estate purchases.
The church’s balance also allegedly dropped from $9 million in October 2020 to $2 million in April 2022 and Weems “never grasped where the money went.”
The investigation revealed Weems purchased their home on Shellcracker Road on the Nassau River for $855,000 through his personal LLC. He then sold the house to the church for about $400,000 more. According to the report, the church financed the property through a line of credit which increased its debt by $1.3 million.
Weems told Action News Jax that the church agreed as part of a three-year plan for the pastor to transition to mission work and retirement. He explained the $400,000 extra was because of renovations.
“We’re not perfect leaders. We made many mistakes. But we have poured our life into this ministry and into this city in 24 years,” he said. “For whatever reason — and I probably should’ve been more diligent on this, I didn’t get any retirement for the first twenty years. So for the past few years — they’ve been helping me ... It’s so normal in the ministry realm.”
According to the report, Weems told his lender that the church board approved purchasing the house, when they did not.
Action News Jax’s Law and Safety Expert Dale Carson, who’s a criminal defense lawyer, said if that’s true, it could lead to fraud charges.
Weems said he has the documents to prove the accusations false and clear his name.
“Truth and justice are a big part of this because I think this is — first of all for my wife and kids — a horrible trauma.”
The report said the church intends to seek criminal charges.
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