Former AME Zion Bishop Staccato Powell Accused of Bamboozling His Churches to the Brink - The Daily Beast
A powerful figure in a storied Black church said he had a grand vision. The feds say it was a big scam—and that his flock is paying the price.
The congregants of University AME Zion Church have owned their building in Palo Alto, California, for nearly 50 years. As far as the congregation was aware, the church—a low, white building where more than 100 people from around the city gather each Sunday—had not had a mortgage, taken out a loan, or so much as missed a utility bill since the early 1970s.
So when Pastor Kaloma Smith received a default notice in June 2020 alerting him that his church was $235,730 past due on mortgage payments and facing imminent foreclosure, he was stunned.
According to a recent filing by the church in California Eastern Bankruptcy Court, Smith quickly sought counsel from Bishop Staccato Powell—then one of the highest-ranking members of the national AME Zion Church, and the leader of the Episcopal district in which University AME Zion resides.
“We received notice of foreclosure in the mail today,” Smith texted Powell, attaching a photo of the notice. “Is this real.”
“It is being resolved,” the bishop responded cryptically. “On a call.”
“What do I do,” Smith asked, still shellshocked.
“Put the letter in the [drawer],” the bishop responded, “and remember what I told you.”
Bishop Staccato Powell was promoted to the position of President of the Board of Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (A.M.E. Zion) at the February 2020 Winter Board of Bishops meeting in Atlanta, GA. Congrats Bro. Bishop Powell. #omegapsiphi pic.twitter.com/weNmon89VU— Omega Psi Phi (@OfficialOPPF) February 21, 2020
AME Zion is one of the oldest and largest Black religious institutions in the country. Founded in the early 19th century by African Americans fleeing discrimination in white Methodist churches, it has since grown to more than 1.4 million members around the world. Its ranks have included Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Bishop Alexander Walters, the co-founder of the NAACP.
As bishop of the Western Episcopal District—which stretches from Washington to California, and includes Arizona, Alaska, and Colorado—Powell was one of the most powerful AME Zion figures; as a pastor of more than 30 years, he was one of its most trusted. But an indictment filed in the U.S. District Court for Northern California last month claims Powell betrayed that trust in order to enrich himself and his business partners—orchestrating an audacious scheme...
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