Allegations Of Embezzlement — And A Brawl — At A Brownsville Church

Allegations Of Embezzlement — And A Brawl — At A Brownsville Church
Calvary Unified Freewill Baptist Church at 1520 Herkimer Street in Brownsville. Liena Zagare/Bklyner

A Brownsville church congregation has sued its long-time former pastor in Brooklyn Supreme Court, demanding he repays over half a million dollars he allegedly embezzled from the sale of the church parking lot in order to buy a house in North Carolina.

Bishop Clenso Allen served as pastor of the Calvary Unified Freewill Baptist Church at 1520 Herkimer Street in Brownsville, near Broadway Junction, for 32 years before being terminated earlier this month after he sold the church’s parking lot to an LLC for $1.3 million without notifying the church’s board of trustees, according to Calvary attorney William Wagstaff.

Bishop Allen allegedly submitted bogus meeting minutes to the state Attorney General’s office, as part of a required approval by the AG’s office for churches to sell property, to create the impression the board approved the sale, according to the civil complaint filed by Wagstaff on behalf of Calvary last week.

The parking lot that used to belong to the church. Liena Zagare/Bklyner

Bishop Allen then allegedly embezzled $575,000 from the proceeds and proceeded to purchase a house in a Clayton, North Carolina gated community for just under $600,000 in cash.

After the sale was discovered by trustees and by the organization with jurisdiction over the church, the Middle Atlantic Conference of Unified Freewill Baptist Churches (MAC), Bishop Allen was suspended from his duties as pastor pending an investigation by Wagstaff on December 12.

Calvary’s Ministry staff back in 2011. Via Facebook.

On January 24, the day congregants were to learn the results of Wagstaff’s investigation, Bishop Allen went to the church with his wife Pastor Mary Allen, and a group of supporters and, after a supporter handed him a microphone, launched into an “unauthorized sermon,” according to the lawsuit.

After attempting to convene a meeting in the middle of his sermon to “retroactively” approve the parking lot’s sale, MAC Presiding Bishop C. Nathan Edwers attempted to remove Allen from the podium, resulting in a scuffle and then a fistfight between supporters and opponents of Allen, which had to be broken up by the NYPD. No police report was filed.

“The heat of the room began to rise,” Bishop Edwers told Bklyner. “It erupted into physical fighting in the hallways, outside of the sanctuary but still in the church building.”

Two days later, Bishop Allen was formally terminated from his post by both the leadership of MAC and by Calvary’s trustees. Bishop Edwers has temporarily taken over the pastorship of Calvary until a replacement pastor is named.

The events have left congregants distraught and depressed, Wagstaff says.

Bishop Clenso Allen and his wife Pastor Mary Allen in 2018. Via Facebook.

“He was the pastor of the church for over 32 years,” Wagstaff told Bklyner. “You have a congregation of believers who is now learning that the pastor they trusted with their spiritual wellbeing is actually a crook.”

While many congregants have taken the news hard, others have remained defiant and on the side of their longtime pastor, whom Bishop Edwers says is building a cult of personality around himself. Supporters of Bishop Allen have continued to try to hold official church meetings, he said.

“They don’t know who to hold their allegiance to,” said Bishop Edwers, who is based in Mount Vernon in Westchester County and has led MAC since 2001. “The pastor is building a kingdom for himself and is using Christ as a shadow.”

Calvary Unified Freewill Baptist Church at 1520 Herkimer Street in Brownsville. Liena Zagare/Bklyner

The congregation is currently all-remote due to the coronavirus pandemic, but about 100 parishioners attended the January 24 service where they expected to hear the results of Wagstaff’s investigation. In the wake of the brawl, in-person Sunday services have been indefinitely suspended, despite state guidelines allowing in-person services with up to 50% capacity, because of fear that Bishop Allen and supporters could attempt a similar action, referred to as an “insurrection” by Wagstaff.

“It is not at this point safe for them to open on Sundays,” Bishop Edwers said.

Bklyner attempted to reach Bishop Allen and his wife Pastor Allen for comment, but neither responded to multiple inquiries.

A spokesperson for state Attorney General Letitia James said that the AG’s office will not join the lawsuit filed by the church, but didn’t say whether the state will file separate charges against the Allens over the fraudulent paperwork.

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