Church Elder and Secretary arrested in Hardeeville

HARDEEVILLE, SC (WTOC) - What police say happened at St. Stephen AME Church in Hardeeville has many people concerned. Hardeeville Police arrested the former pastor, Jonathan Roberts, and charged him with criminal conspiracy. He's now the presiding elder for Beaufort County in the 7th District AME Church in South Carolina.

The church's financial secretary, Roberta Simmons, was also arrested for breach of trust with fraudulent intent after police say the two took money from the church over the past couple of years.

As you can imagine, many church members we spoke to are upset by what is going on. "It was hurtful that I did tithe and that someone is being accused of misusing my contributions. But the most hurtful part would be that if they are guilty that sin brought them to this point," said Andrea Smallwood, St. Stephens AME Church member.

Police Capt. Arnold Middleton says they began investigating in February when the church's new pastor and a church committee discovered financial irregularities in an internal review. Police say $56,000 was in the church account and after two and a half years, just $2,000 was left.

"We're looking at $21,000 they used for their own personal gain," said Captain Middleton.

But they say that's just the beginning. According to Middleton, Simmons was in charge of keeping the books for the church and paying bills, but instead he says Simmons wrote checks and cashed them.

"She would actually take the checks and write checks payable to cash and according to her, give them to the pastor at the time, at his directions who is now the elder," said Capt Middleton.

He says she also used the money for her gain as well.

"With some of the money she used some of the money to get cashier's check to pay for a child support on one of the musician's at the church," said Middleton. "She also used some of the money to pay her own personal electric bill, which the church's electrical bill was behind."

Investigators have seized numerous computers from the church and from Simmons' residence and say they are still investigating more missing funds.

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