“It’s a hostile takeover of a church ministry.”
With his wife by his side, Pastor Joel Peebles talked for the first time about how a small group of employees took control of his mother's church, Jericho City of Praise, after she died of colon cancer in 2010.
Tisha Thompson: "Did your mother ever say to you, ‘Joel I want you to take my place? Joel, I want you to be in charge?’"
Joel Peebles: "About a thousand times. She believed in passing the mantle. Not that church is a birthright. Ministry is a calling."
Tisha Thompson: "Did your mother ever say to you, ‘I'm changing the plan?’"
Joel Peebles: “Absolutely not."
Peebles took the Board of Trustees to court, where a judge ruled “Peebles is not on the Board” and the employees appointed by his mother are “the lawful Board of Trustees governing Jericho.”
Tisha Thompson: "I've had folks say to me that the janitor is now in charge of the church. Is the janitor in charge of the church?"
Joel Peebles: "The chief operating officer is the janitor. The janitor receives money and her car. One of the other persons on this board receives a fur coat, Rolex watches. Most of them receive money."
The News4 I-Team obtained a copy of Betty Peebles’s trust, where she does leave her “Mercedes,” “gold Rolex” and “mink coat” to board members along with thousands of dollars in cash.
The trust also leaves money to her son and other family members.
Joel Peebles said, “I’m extraordinarily concerned” about the Board’s financial care of the church.
He pointed to court depositions, where board members testified Betty Peebles gave them all large raises before she died.
The depositions show the multi-million dollar organization “never had regular financial reports.”
When asked if “there has ever been a budget,” the church’s financial officer answered under oath, “No.”
She estimated Jericho collects around $48,000 in tithes each Sunday.
Peebles calls the Board’s actions, “A power grab. Without a doubt.”
He says the current board took advantage of his mother’s illness in the last months of her life.
But in a written statement to News4, the Board said, "Any allegation that Apostle Peebles was manipulated...is simply preposterous and outlandish."
The Board said Joel Peebles failed "to produce any evidence or facts that the Apostle was mentally incompetent or had been taken advantage of" and she established the board in 2009 before she became sick.
The Board fired Peebles last week.
Jericho is now split, something Peebles says would have devastated his parents.
"They would be utterly broken,” Peebles said. “Utterly broken. In fact, I'm glad they're not here. I would never want them to see what has taken place."