Canonsburg congregation sues Legacy Church founders
Mt. Olive Baptist seeks cash, damages
A view of Life Church at North Main and Chestnut streets in Washington, where Legacy Church rents space
Mike Jones / Observer-Reporter
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Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Canonsburg is suing the new Legacy Church in Washington and accusing its founders of stealing more than $175,000 to make personal purchases over three years.
The Canonsburg congregation this week filed its lawsuit in Washington County Court alleging its former treasurer, pastor and church assistant siphoned money from its capital budget fund and made numerous purchases using church credit cards and accounts.
John W. Davis Sr. of Canonsburg, Lance and Deborah Whitlock of North Strabane and their newly founded Legacy Church on North Main Street are named in the lawsuit. Mt. Olive Church is seeking $150,000 in relief plus damages in the lawsuit.
Davis served as a deacon, treasurer and chairman of Mt. Olive’s Trustee Board, while Lance Whitlock was hired to serve as pastor. Deborah Whitlock spent time as an assistant and was paid hourly, according to the lawsuit.
Deborah Whitlock said Wednesday she was not aware of the lawsuit and had no comment until she could review the accusations.
The lawsuit claims Davis had access to the church’s two bank accounts and a special “Moving Forward in Faith” fund designed to raise money for capital improvement projects. In May 2011, Mt. Olive officials said they became aware of “certain financial irregularities” with the capital fund, and the budget committee began reviewing the situation later that year. Davis and Lance Whitlock did not cooperate with the inquiry, the lawsuit claims, and Davis, according to the suit, provided the budget committee with forged statements that had some transactions altered using correction fluid.
Whitlock resigned as pastor in January 2012, and the budget committee dissolved six months later after it “became concerned with the church’s solvency” and formed a special finance committee to perform an audit. Davis, who was an “ex officio” member of the deacon board, twice dismissed the committee when it was attempting to meet in late 2012 in “an effort to disrupt the deacons’ activities,” according to the lawsuit.
The suit states the church’s finance committee concluded Davis and the Whitlocks misappropriated a total of $175,000 from November 2009 to December 2012, including $50,000 through use of the church’s Sam’s Club credit card. The lawsuit claims Davis used the card over two years to buy groceries, hygiene products, clothing and cleaning supplies. He also allegedly used church money to buy higher-end products such as televisions, diamond jewelry and car tires, the lawsuit claims.
“Davis concealed his used of the Sam’s credit card by keeping the monthly statements from the deacons,” according to the lawsuit.
Lance and Deborah Whitlock are accused in the lawsuit of using church bank cards to buy various household items. The lawsuit also claims the Whitlocks used some of the money to start Legacy Church at 100 N. Main St. by purchasing office equipment and supplies. Legacy currently rents space inside Life Church’s building for weekly services, but the two are not affiliated.
Mt. Olive officials also claim Lance Whitlock unilaterally increased his and his wife’s pay without church approval.
“The Whitlocks treated the church’s funds as their own,” the lawsuit claims.
Steve Toprani, the attorney representing Mt. Olive Baptist Church, could not be reached for comment.
Canonsburg police said Wednesday they are not investigating the allegations.