Judge tosses out Macon church swindling criminal case

The criminal case against a former Macon pastor and a former Macon banker accused of swindling church members into taking out loans totaling more than $600,000 was thrown out of court Tuesday because of a technicality.

Superior Court Judge Phillip Brown ruled that the 13-page indictment charging Jimmy Collins and Steven Pittman with a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization violation was not specific enough in outlining the charges.

Collins, 42, is former pastor of God’s Worship Center on Gray Highway. Pittman, also 42, is a former employee of BB&T bank in Macon.

“They’re entitled to know what to defend against,” Brown said.

Prosecutor Sharell Lewis said the District Attorney’s Office can either choose to appeal the judge’s ruling or draft a new indictment to present to the grand jury.

The original indictment, presented to a Bibb County grand jury in December, charged Collins and Pittman with violation of the RICO Act, bank fraud, criminal attempt to commit bank fraud, residential mortgage fraud, criminal attempt to commit residential mortgage fraud, forgery, theft, criminal attempt to commit theft by taking and theft by deception, according to court records.

Between July 5, 2002, and May 16, 2008, Pittman and Collins were alleged to have used Pittman’s position as a bank officer to obtain loans and lines of credit for about 10 church members, according to the records.

As pastor of the church, Collins was accused of using his position and influence to identify potential borrowers who “lacked financial sophistication” to “assist” the church, the church’s One Step alcohol and drug rehabilitation program or the Car Vision car lot in which he was a silent partner, according to court records.

Collins further was accused of telling church members that they were at no personal financial risk because the church, One Step or car lot would be responsible for any repayment for the bank loans, records showed.

Collins and Pittman also were accused of providing false financial information about the church members in banking documents, submitting forged documents to the bank and misrepresenting the true use of the loan funds, according to court records.

Members of Collins’ congregation filed five civil lawsuits in Superior Court against Collins, Pittman and BB&T, said Brian Adams, the lawyer who represents the church members in the lawsuits.

Adams said his clients have reached a confidential settlement with BB&T, and the cases against the bank are being dismissed.

He would not discuss terms of the settlement.

Information from The Telegraph’s archives was included in this report.