Parishioner slaps Port Arthur church with lawsuit
After being expelled from her church, Jessie Mae Jackson, a lifelong member of the Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in Port Arthur, said she just wanted their pastor to be more transparent with the church’s finances.
“There was a lot of conflict of interest going on,” she said. “A lot of nepotism, just stuff that wasn’t right.”
In a Port Arthur community that prides itself on faith and service to those in need, Jackson said she was honored when she was elected by the church to serve on its finance committee and, later, as its treasurer. But it soon became clear to her she would be receiving no help from the church’s pastor, Kurt J. Washington.
By 2007, Jackson said Washington’s entire family controlled every major position of authority in the church, including the position of finance director after Washington removed the previous one due to a “conflict of interest,” giving his wife the position instead.
“We’ve been having trouble with the finances since ’07 when he took over,” Jackson said. “He did everything. He did all the books. He did all the financial records, the taxes, everything.”
When thousands worth of donations started coming up missing, Jackson demanded answers, but was quickly blacklisted from the church she loved. After she was removed from Sunday service by Port Arthur police at the pastor’s behest, Jackson had had enough.
In a civil suit filed April 1 in Judge Gary Sanderson’s 60th judicial district court, Jackson names Washington and his entire family as the defendants, saying she wants the pastor to open the books and account for some $800,000 in donations, the bulk of which “have been paid to the Defendant, Kurt Washington, or his relatives,” according to the lawsuit.
The suit also alleges Washington spent the church’s money on “personal bills, a personal retirement account, and payments to businesses owned by relatives allegedly for construction, building and repairs, none of which was done based on competitive bids or with the prior approval of the congregation.”
Jackson said the church voted for an audit that was stonewalled by Washington. If Washington has been unwilling to provide church members with an independent audit in the past, he may be forced to under the April 1 suit. The lawsuit requests a court-ordered, independent audit of the church’s finances for the past three years.
“What does he have to hide?” Jackson said. “If there’s nothing to hide, why didn’t he just open up his books in the first place?”
Jackson’s attorney, Carl A. Parker, said his office has subpoenaed bank records and minutes from various church meetings and is gearing up to bring Washington before a judge.
“Washington claims that his own pay has been about $50,000 something a year,” Parker said. “But the records we saw, he’s been taking out about $98,000 a year.”
Parker went on to say Washington’s application for 501c3 (nonprofit) status in 2001 names he and other family members as the sole proprietors of Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church. If this was not approved by church members as designated in the church’s bylaws, Parker said Washington broke the law.
“If he can’t produce the minutes where the whole thing was approved by the church, that turns out to be fraud,” he said.
Clay Thorp can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 225, or by e-mail at clay [at] theexaminer [dot] com.