Former AME Zion Church leaders are accused of defrauding California churches

Two former leaders of California’s African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church are facing federal charges after authorities allege they defrauded churches across the state of $14 million.

Staccato Powell, 62, of Wake Forest, NC, and Sheila Quintana, 67, of Vallejo, are each facing two charges of wire fraud and one charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud against California, according to the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District . Powell also faces a case of mail fraud.

According to the indictment, filed Jan. 6 and unsealed Tuesday, authorities allege the two took control of the communities’ property and used it to secure loans to help themselves in a program run by ran from around October 2016 to the end of July 2021.

Powell and Quintana served as officers of Western Episcopal District Inc., which they founded in 2016 after Powell was elected bishop overseeing the church’s Western District, prosecutors said.

“The indictment alleges that Powell and Quintana conspired to defraud AME Zion Church congregations in Oakland, San Jose, Palo Alto and Los Angeles by reassigning property from local congregations on behalf of WED Inc.” the prosecutors said.

Court documents describe the conspiracy as a “pressure and misinformation campaign against pastors who served Powell at his convenience.”

Prior to Powell and Quintana’s actions, the communities had little to no mortgage debt, prosecutors said. The couple used false information, omissions and forged documents to produce evidence that local communities approved the new mortgages.

According to the indictment, these mortgages often have unfavorable conditions such as high interest rates.

They “have not informed the private lenders of the true facts, and they have not informed the local communities about the new mortgages using the local church properties as collateral,” prosecutors said.

According to the indictment, Powell and Quintana used the proceeds from the high-interest loans to benefit themselves. Powell bought real estate in North Carolina and paid off his existing mortgage debt in that state. Quintana’s spouse received cash payments.

The program was rolled back in 2019 after congregations received notices that loans for their churches were delinquent, court documents said.

Some church members filed complaints with AME Zion Church leaders, the court documents said. On January 4, 2019, church authorities ordered Powell to quit and return all title deeds to their respective parishes.

However, the fraudulent scheme continued.

“By mid-2020, all specie loans were in default and WED Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection,” the indictment reads.

The filing, filed by WED on July 30, 2020, listed 11 churches in California, Arizona and Colorado as assets, prosecutors said. This case is pending before the Federal Bankruptcy Court.

According to the indictment, leaders of the AME Zion Church voted on August 7 of that year to relieve Powell of his financial and administrative duties. He was “disrobed” on July 29, 2021, formally stripping him of his title as bishop.

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