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Ex pastor, bookkeeper, to do jail time for embezzling

UPDATE Sept. 11, 2017

Prince Frederick, MD -To both the prosecuting attorney and judge, the case before Calvert County Circuit in a Monday, Sept. 11 sentencing hearing was about a violation of trust.

The defendants—Michael Shawn Holcomb, 41 and Rayanne Carson, 34, both of St. Leonard—had both entered guilty pleas for single counts of embezzlement in connection with a theft scheme back in June. The victim was Crossroads Christian Church in St. Leonard, where Holcomb was pastor and Carson was the bookkeeper. Church elders terminated the pair last summer.

In a statement of facts submitted during the June plea hearing, the total loss to Crossroads Christian Church due to Holcomb and Carson’s “criminal theft and misappropriation” was estimated at $87,413.70.

Calvert County Assistant State’s Attorney G. Michael Morgan Jr. called Holcomb and Carson’s alleged actions “straight, cold theft from the church. They stole from the very congregants of the church.” Morgan likened the stealing and subsequent lavish spending sprees of the two defendants to “stealing from the collection plate. They pierced the moral and ethical bedrock of that church.”

Judge Mark Chandlee also chided the defendants. He told Carson her actions went “beyond bad judgment. You were placed in a position of trust.” Chandlee sentenced Carson to five years in jail, suspending all but six months. Carson will be on work release, supervised probation and must pay over $12,000 in restitution to the church and an additional sum to the church’s insurance company.

“It comes down to what’s right and what’s wrong,” Chandlee told Holcomb, adding that stealing money from a church was reinforcing the cynicism people have about contributing cash to churches and charities. “It does have a ripple effect,” said Chandlee. Holcomb was sentenced to five years in jail with all but one year suspended. He will also be on work release and must pay over $43,000 in restitution to the church and additional money to the church’s insurance company.

The proceedings included calls on behalf of the defendants for leniency. Robert Castro, the attorney representing Carson, stated his client assumed the job of bookkeeper at a time that Crossroads Christian Church was in foreclosure and being badly mismanaged financially. “They [church elders] asked for her help and she did what she could to help them out,” said Castro, adding the church “is using her as a scapegoat. She does not want to be known as the person who ripped off the church. She wants to put this behind her.”

“My children are my absolute world,” said an apologetic Carson, adding that even before evidence of the embezzlement she had been ostracized by several church members. “My life has been in absolute shambles.”

“How very sorry I am for the mess they [church elders] had to clean up,” said Holcomb, adding that he did not regret his over 20 years of service and ministry at Crossroads Christian.

In their pleas for leniency, the defendants’ spouses both apologized for having an extramarital affair that likely caused the turmoil within the church and made the defendants targets of an investigation. During Carson’s hearing and speaking against the advice of his attorney, John J. Pikulski IV, Holcomb apologized to Carson, stating if he [Holcomb] had been a better pastor, “we wouldn’t be here today.”

The church’s current pastor, Robert Lee, affirmed the loss of funds had severe consequences. Crossroads Christian Church has been unable to participate in many community activities, such as “Safe Nights,” an initiative where area churches aid the homeless by opening their doors during cold weather. “We’ve prayed individually and collectively for Mr. Holcomb and Ms. Carson,” said Lee. “It doesn’t change that a wrong has been committed.”

Contact Marty Madden at marty.madden@thebaynet.com


Previous story

Prince Frederick, MD - A former minister and bookkeeper of a Calvert County church entered guilty pleas in Circuit Court Thursday, June 29.

The defendants, Michael Shawn Holcomb, 41 and Rayanne Carson, 34, both of St. Leonard both entered pleas of guilty to single counts of embezzlement in connection with a theft scheme that reportedly occurred between January and September of 2016, with most of the indiscretions occurring when both were employed at Crossroads Christian Church in St. Leonard. The charge of embezzlement is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of five years in jail.

 Calvert County Assistant State’s Attorney G. Michael Morgan Jr. prosecuted that cases against Holcomb and Carson.

Judge Mark Chandlee set the sentencings for September 11. The matter of restitution will likely be finalized when the sentences are handed down.

Holcomb and Carson were indicted back in February. Holcomb was indicted on three counts—theft over $10,000 to under $100,000, theft scheme over $10,000 to under $100,000 and embezzle/misappropriate. Carson, who had been the church’s bookkeeper, faced those same charges and was also indicted for altering physical evidence of a crime.

In a December investigation conducted after Holcomb and Carson were charged in District Court, Detective Mike Mudd of the Calvert County Sheriff's Office concluded that "due to the criminal theft and misappropriation by Holcomb and Carson the Crossroads Christian Church suffered a total combined loss of approximately $87,413.70."

Holcomb was terminated as pastor of Crossroad Christian Church in St. Leonard last August. The charges against Holcomb and Carson were filed by Robert W. Lee Sr. on behalf of Crossroad Christian Inc. last fall.

In an application for a statement of charges, Lee stated that discussions by church leaders about terminating Holcomb began Aug. 19 and the minister was “officially terminated Aug. 27." The misappropriation of church funds allegedly occurred between Jan. 1 and Sept. 2 of this year, District Court documents stated. “In September 2016 we obtained bank records that showed numerous purchases that were not authorized by church leadership—the elders,” Lee stated. “These funds were used for personal benefit. This use included groceries, cell phones, hotels, liquor store purchases, personal purchases for washer and dryer, refrigerator, stove, purchases at various automotive repair businesses, purchases made for family vacations, movies, numerous purchases for dinners at restaurants. Mr. Holcomb withdrew $15,259.11 in total from the church bank account in cash, $40,772.82 in check card purchases, $9,936 in POS [point of sale] transactions (debit), $3,732.56 in check card purchases. There were no major church events throughout the year so there were no church ministry expenses.” Lee added that on Aug. 26, one day before he was fired, “Mr. Holcomb closed the church bank accounts at PNC in Prince Frederick to hide the misuse of church funds.”

Lee stated in court documents that Carson’s employment at the church ended in July of 2016. “In September 2016, we obtained bank records that showed numerous purchases that were not authorized by church leadership—the elders. These funds were used for her personal benefit. The use included groceries, cell phones, [youth football] registration, meals and other items of personal enjoyment. Along with former Pastor Michael Holcomb, she purchased kitchen appliances on credit through Lowes. She charged cell phones and all services for herself, Mr. Holcomb and their family members. These were all put in the church’s name. Eleven cell phones were put on this plan personally and two were for the church. The church is held liable for the sum of $5,108.26 through AT&T.” Lee added that the total sum of debit, online transfers and purchases is estimated to be $12,604.95 and with the AT&T bill totals $17,713.21. “In an effort to hide these purchases, Ms. Carson, with Mr. Holcomb, denied access and closed all the church bank accounts at PNC in Prince Frederick,” Lee stated in court documents. “Ms. Carson deleted and erased all bank files from Quick Books. No tax records can be found. Ms. Carson also closed all church email accounts. She refused to hand over church property—laptops, thumb drives and records.”

Holcomb was represented at the June 29 hearing by John Joseph Pikulski IV. Carson was represented by Brendan Callahan.

Editor's Note: This story was slightly revised late Friday morning June 30 after the original version was published. 

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