Pastors of Morris County Church to Reimburse Congregants
For Misappropriated Donations
NEWARK - The pastors of a Randolph-based church who were accused of diverting
congregation donations for their own personal use, including purchase of 78-foot
schooner and a $1.6 million property in Mendham, have agreed to reimburse donors
and immediately resign from the church's board.
Additionally, a fiscal monitor will take control of the banking and financial
accounts maintained by Church Alive, Inc., which also is known as Randolph Christian
Church, Inc. The church is a non-profit corporation located at 791 Route 10 in
Eric Simons and his wife, Marianne, who are pastor and assistant pastor of the
church, and Philip DuPlessis, an assistant pastor at the church, also are barred
for 10 years from serving on any financial board. DuPlessis' wife, Sharon, is
an assistant pastor at the church but she is not a respondent in this settlement.
"These church leaders asked for donations for the betterment of the congregation but in reality they misused these monies for their own personal gain," Attorney General Anne Milgram said. "We remain vigilant in enforcing the state's charities laws and we will continue to hold accountable those who attempt to cheat donors."
Congregants were told their donations would be put into a Building Fund. Instead, the donations were comingled with other church funds that were solely controlled by the Simonses and DuPlessises. In addition to the schooner and property, they paid themselves "honorarium" totaling $150,000 and also spent $39,395 on "life-coaching" classes and a "life-coaching" license for Eric Simons. Simons operates a for-profit "life-coaching" business. The church itself holds the license.
"These pastors violated the trust of donors, claiming the donations would fund a new building. Instead, by controlling the donated funds without any oversight, they spent lavishly on themselves. Donors need to be vigilant and check with our Charities Registration Unit before giving their hard-earned dollars to any charitable or non-profit group," said David Szuchman, Consumer Affairs Director.
The church is required to appoint an official board within 30 days, under terms of the Consent Order with the state. The board is required to review the employment status of all church employees, including the Simonses and DuPlessises, as well as all financial records and report back to the Division of Consumer Affairs.
The board will determine the sales prospects for the Mendham property, which is located at 14 Kingsbrook Court. The Simonses currently reside there.
The DuPlessises are required to repay the church $125,000 and turn over title and registration to the schooner. Eric Simons and Philip DuPlessis each must repay $50,000, the honoraria which were used to purchase the schooner.
Eric Simons and Philip DuPlessis also must repay a total of $14,495 as reimbursement for "life-coaching" education. The state will be reimbursed $60,917 for its investigative and legal expenses.
Deputy Attorneys General Anna M. Lascurain, Chief, Securities Fraud Prosecution Section, and Isabella T. Stempler represented the state in this legal proceeding. Supervising investigator Larry Biondo led the investigative work.
An online directory of charitable organizations registered in
New Jersey can be found at http://www.state.nj.us/lps/ca/charity/chardir.htm.
Consumers also can call the Charitable Registration Hotline at (973)504-6215.
Religious organizations are exempt from having to register but they must comply
with the state's Charities and Non-Profit Corporation laws.