Second Baptist Church to file civil suit over lost funds

Rev. Timothy Bush prepares to address the media at a press conference at Second Baptist Church on Tuesday (photo: Ryan Phillips, SDN)
Staff Writer

At least two dozen people gathered at the Second Baptist Church on Tuesday to hold a press conference regarding an ongoing financial controversy within the congregation. 

Members of the church plan to file a civil suit in reference to a series of payments made to a local law firm without the consent of the church body. They allege that church member Bennie Hairston signed checks addressed to the Carson Law Group, along with cosigner Jackie Lindsey.

No timetable has been given for when the lawsuit will be filed.

Church leaders told the media that they repeatedly informed Dorsey Carson Jr. of the Carson Law Group that Hairston and Lindsey did not represent or make decisions for the church. 

The church governing body claims Hairston signed 10 checks to the Carson Law Group dating back to 2015, totaling $94,672. Of these payments, the largest individual payout came in August 2016, when Hairston signed a check to the firm in the amount of $18,363.47. 

The church body did not authorize the payments, which paid for litigation unrelated to the Second Baptist Church, church leaders said. 

Carson said in a statement following the press conference that after the church was unsuccessful in the Oktibbeha County Circuit Court and the Mississippi Supreme Court, the defendants are now trying their case in the court of public opinion.

"It is mind-boggling how, just to save their own skin, a preacher and a deacon are willing to protect a convicted felon who has stolen $450,000 from their church," Carson said.

While the church plans to file a civil suit to retrieve the lost funds, the church body also voted to release pastor Joseph Stone and chairman Terry Miller from any civil liability regarding the church’s ongoing sanctuary construction dispute. 

Carson then said with the assistance of Stone and Miller, Second Baptist was defrauded to the tune of $450,000 by Don Crowther, a contractor who had previously been convicted of bribery on a federal project. 

"After the Trustees refused to sign a one-sided contract with the contractor, the preacher and contractor conspired to enter into the contract without Trustee approval," Carson said. "Then, after the longtime Church Treasurer refused to write checks to the contractor, that head deacon signed and delivered them."

In mid-January, the church held a vote and elected to remove Hairston and Lindsey from the church’s bank accounts with both Regions Bank and Renasant Bank. The church body regularly votes on the church budget, which covers utilities and other operational costs. 

However, Rev. Timothy Bush spoke on behalf of the church’s governing body and said neither banks had honored the church’s wishes to remove the two men from their status on the accounts. 

Bush addressed the media and said he and other members of the church had gathered to represent the true voice of the church amid a controversial time.
“We just wanted to put the truth out,” Bush told the SDN following the press conference. “We did our homework and made sure we are putting out information that is true.” 

The SDN reported in April that Crowther served as the contractor for the Second Baptist Church's stalled sanctuary expansion and was arrested by the Starkville Police Department on charges of false pretense. 

Crowther is the president of TCM Companies, LLC, the company hired to build a new sanctuary at Second Baptist Church.

Little work has been completed on the new sanctuary, but the divisions in the church still leave some with hope for the future. 

Beulah McGee has been a church member since 1972 and said she has no doubt that the church will survive through the controversy. McGee and others said that Hairston and others have committed character assassination on church leaders, which boils down to personal quarrels. 

“I am disappointed we have come to this point,” she said. “The church should never sue the church. I think it is just a personal vendetta against the pastor and deacons. We should come together, its like a power struggle."