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Former pastor, banker reindicted for allegedly swindling church members

Bibb County grand jurors have reindicted a former pastor and former banker accused of swindling the pastor’s church members into taking out loans totaling more than $600,000.

Jimmy Collins, 43, former pastor of God’s Worship Center of Gray Highway, and Steven Pittman, 43, a former employee of BB&T bank, are charged with two violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, or RICO Act, according to the indictment.

Grand jurors also indicted Collins on two additional counts of theft and two counts of forgery, according to a separate indictment.

Collins is accused of fraudulently endorsing a $10,661 check written by an insurance company to William Mote and Bland Roofing and taking the money Feb. 23, 2010. He also is accused of fraudulently endorsing a $6,750 check written by a construction company to Ronnie Bland and taking the money April 9, 2010, according to Bibb County Superior Court records.

Collins and Bland were business associates at the time of the alleged theft and fraud, prosecutor Sharell Lewis said.

The indictment charging Collins and Pittman with two RICO violations does not include any new charges, but instead clarifies the original 2008 indictment.

Bibb County Superior Court Judge S. Phillip Brown dismissed the original RICO case in July 2009, saying the first 13-page indictment was not specific enough in outlining the charges.

The Georgia Court of Appeals reversed Brown’s ruling in January 2010, ruling that the indictment contained “sufficient detail.”

Lewis said she anticipated another challenge to the indictment following a status conference with Brown and defense attorneys.

Rather than delaying justice and waiting for another round of appeals, Lewis said she made the decision to reindict the case and go forward with the new charges against Collins.

“I’m looking forward to addressing the merits of the case,” she said.

Pittman’s lawyer, Laura D. Hogue, said she had not read the new indictment Tuesday afternoon.

“We’ll take a look at it and go through it and turn our attention to defending him under the new indictment,” she said.

A message left for Collins’ lawyer, Jonathan Waters, was not returned Tuesday.

Between July 5, 2002, and May 16, 2008, Pittman and Collins allegedly used Pittman’s position as a bank officer to obtain loans and lines of credit for about 10 church members, according to Bibb County Superior Court records.

As pastor of the church, Collins allegedly used his position and influence to identify potential borrowers who “lacked financial sophistication” to “assist” the church, but told church members they were at no personal financial risk because the church would be responsible for repaying the loans.

Collins and Pittman also are 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.

To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.

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