Ex-chairman of LA church pleads guilty in $11 million theft

February 3, 2020 GMT

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The former board chairman of the Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist in Los Angeles has pleaded guilty to stealing $11.4 million and using it for personal expenses, including buying a home and a membership to an exclusive dining club at Disneyland.

Fifty-five-year-old Charles Sebesta of Huntington Beach pleaded guilty Monday to wire and bank fraud. He was arrested in August and could face up to 60 years in federal prison.

For at least a decade beginning in 2006, Sebesta had money sent to bank accounts in his name, the names of his family members and several phony companies, prosecutors said. To conceal the payments, he forged a church member’s signature on checks drawn against church bank accounts, prosecutors said.

Sebesta also siphoned off most of the proceeds from the 2008 sales of church property in Hollywood for nearly $13 million, using more than $2 million in cashier’s checks to buy a home, faslely recording them in church records as donations and environmental remediation payments, according to his plea agreement.

Sebesta also wired about $2 million in church money to his own personal tax accounts to obtain overpayment refunds, authorities said.