Wednesday, 12 August 2009


RANDOLPH -- Three Randolph pastors the state has accused of bilking their church of about $2 million may have used church credit cards for personal items totaling more than $7,000 from stores like Fortunoff, Pottery Barn and Target, according to a fiscal monitor's report released today.
The monitor also found Randolph Christian Church paid pastor Eric Simons advances totaling more than $43,000 for his income taxes between 2007 and 2009, according to the report.
Simons and his wife, senior pastor Marianne Simons, submitted expenses with little documentation, some without receipts, and were reimbursed by the church, according to the report.
In April, Simons was reimbursed more than $1,400 by the church for a $600 Kenmore washer from Sears and more than $700 worth of items from Costco, according to the report.
The findings come as part of a series of reports conducted by fiscal monitor Donald Conway, a certified public accountant at the Princeton-based Mercadien Group, who has been examining the pastors' finances and investments, including $1.6 million mansion in Randolph, a $450,000 schooner that associate pastor Philip DuPlessis lives on with his family in Jersey City and life-coaching classes.
The state Department of Consumer Affairs accused the religious leaders April 1 of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of church funds for their own personal use.
"It appears that RCC funds have been used to pay for personal expenses of Simons and DuPlessis," Conway said.
The mansion, which the pastors had said is being used as a parsonage, has been listed with Weichert Realtors for $1.6 million, and the Simonses will continue living in the home until it is sold, state officials and Conway said. The mansion has been shown three times, but no offers have been made.
The furnishings in the mansion are owned by the church, also known as Church Alive. Conway said those items also must also be sold to reimburse the church.
Simons and DuPlessis also used $22,000 in church funds to enter a business venture with a Nevada law firm, which Conway believes should be paid back to the church, the report showed.
"I do not see how RCC has benefited from the services," he said.
Conway also determined Marianne Simons must return the 2005 Honda Odyssey she drives. The car was bought with church funds, the report showed. It also said she has to reimburse the church for the use of her cell phone.
To cut expenditures, the church board is eliminating the congregation's outreach program, advertising and promotion ventures, its dance and children's ministry, some administrative expenses and miscellaneous support, according to the report.
In addition, the board is challenging Conway's suggested $55,100 salary for Simons, insisting their pastor should receive a base salary of $85,400 plus benefits, the report showed.
Conway said that suggested salary does not reflect the current financial state of the church. In 2000, the church brought in nearly $400,000 in contributions. The projected 2009 contribution income is significantly lower at $72,024, according to the report.
The pastors are conducting worship services every Sunday in the Bible Church International building on Route 10. Randolph Christian Church last year sold the building to Bible Church International for $5 million.
The Simonses did not return calls for comment today. A cell phone number for DuPlessis rang but was not answered.
Former congregants and state officials have said the church members thought they were donating money toward a building fund.
"It just outrages me," Maria Palumbo, a former congregant who lives in Jefferson, said today. "That money could have helped so many people in need, and he used it for his own selfish personal pleasure."
But current church members are standing by their pastor.
"I am not happy that all of this is going on. But it has brought us all closer together," church member Paul Bouscaren of Budd Lake said. "The first thing we need to do as a church is get things squared away so we don't need a fiscal monitor anymore.