Brooklyn preacher goes on trial for fraud charges prosecutors say fueled lavish lifestyle

Feb 25, 2024, 10:07 PM

FILE - Bishop Lamor Miller-Whitehead speaks with the media, May 24, 2022, in New York. The Brooklyn...

FILE - Bishop Lamor Miller-Whitehead speaks with the media, May 24, 2022, in New York. The Brooklyn preacher who prosecutors say looted a parishioner's retirement savings and tried to extort a businessman to fuel his lavish lifestyle goes on trial Monday, Feb. 26, 2024, in Manhattan federal court. Miller-Whitehead faces trial two years after a grand jury lodged wire fraud and attempted extortion charges against him. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — A Brooklyn preacher with ties to New York City Mayor Eric Adams is set to go on trial Monday in Manhattan federal court over charges that he looted a parishioner’s retirement savings and tried to extort a businessman to fuel his lavish lifestyle.

Lamor Miller-Whitehead, 47, a Rolls Royce-driving bishop, faces the start of jury selection two years after a grand jury lodged charges against him including wire fraud, attempted wire fraud, attempted extortion and making false statements to federal law enforcement officials.

Prosecutors say he plundered a parishioner’s savings and duped a businessman with false claims that they could leverage his connections to New York City officials, including Adams, to make millions of dollars. Miller-Whitehead has pleaded not guilty.

Miller-Whitehead has been free on $500,000 bail since his arrest, which came only months after he was the victim of a robbery when $1 million in jewelry was stolen from him by gunmen who surprised him during a church service.

His lawyer, Dawn Florio, said at the time that her client felt as if he were being turned from a victim into a villain.

“Bishop Whitehead has pled not guilty, and is looking forward to having his day in court, so that he can fight these charges,” Florio said in a statement Friday.

In charging documents, prosecutors made no mention of the friendship that Miller-Whitehead developed with the city’s mayor while he served as Brooklyn’s borough president before his election to the city’s top job.

But an evidentiary request from prosecutors suggests the mayor’s relationship with Miller-Whitehead might become a focal point at the trial. Prosecutors are seeking to require a writer for The New Yorker to testify about a January 2023 article titled, “The Mayor and the Con Man.”

Attorney Rachel Strom, who represents New Yorker staff writer Eric Lach, argued in a letter to Judge Lorna G. Schofield that prosecutors were trying to “authenticate a generic, run-of-the-mill denial” that Whitehead made about his dealings with the mayor once Adams knew he was the target of an investigation.

“The Subpoena is highly invasive, would expose the journalist to cross examination (potentially putting other confidential sources at risk), and make the journalist effectively an arm of law enforcement,” she wrote. The judge was expected to rule before opening statements.

At a news conference last week, the mayor was asked about legal filings in the case indicating prosecutors planned to show jurors evidence that Miller-Whitehead used the name of Adams to commit fraud and attempted extortion.

Adams responded that anyone reporting about it should “quote the documents that stated that clearly he did not have authorization and there was no connectivity to the actions of (the) mayor or borough president.”

Among pretrial evidentiary rulings, the judge has agreed to exclude mention of Miller-Whitehead’s criminal conviction for identity theft and grand larceny, which resulted in a five-year prison stint, although it could be brought up if he decides to testify.

Miller-Whitehead became a religious figure when he formed the Leaders of Tomorrow International Ministries in 2013.

Although he preaches in Brooklyn, he owns a $1.6 million home in Paramus, New Jersey, and an apartment in Hartford, Connecticut.

Monday’s trial stems from charges alleging he bilked a parishioner out of $90,000 in retirement savings by falsely promising he would find her a home and invest the rest in his real estate business. Prosecutors say he instead spent the money on luxury goods and clothing.

He also is charged with trying to convince a businessman to lend him $500,000 and give him a stake in real estate deals by claiming his ties to city officials could earn favorable treatment for the businessman’s interests.

The businessman, Brandon Belmonte, complained to federal authorities, who initiated a half-year probe in 2022 that culminated in Miller-Whitehead’s arrest.

Some of the key evidence at the trial was expected to result from secret audio recordings made of conversations between Belmonte and Miller-Whitehead.

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Brooklyn preacher goes on trial for fraud charges prosecutors say fueled lavish lifestyle