The Brooklyn pastor who was robbed at gunpoint last Sunday staunchly defended himself and denounced the media coverage he’s received amid a series of week-long controversies.
At a press conference on Friday meant to address security at places of worship, Bishop Lamor Whitehead railed against the media for focusing on his past and lavish lifestyle instead of the robbery that took place at this church.
“Fendi, Louie, Gucci, why can’t we wear that in the church?” he said, referencing expensive designer clothes. “I wear what I wear to encourage people not to laugh at people. My community work speaks for itself. I am the biggest pastor in New York City.”
The news conference caps a week of controversies for Whitehead, who was robbed at gunpoint while delivering a sermon at the Leaders of Tomorrow International Churches in Canarsie. The NYPD says thieves took off with over $1 million in jewelry, a value Whitehead disputed on Friday.
Just two days after the burglary, Whitehead faced blowback for fat-shaming and homophobic remarks he made on an Instagram Live channel. He later apologized.
Whitehead has also faced renewed criticisms on social media for flaunting his expensive jewelry, clothes and cars. When it was reported that the value of the items stolen on Sunday was over $1 million according to the NYPD, many wondered if it was appropriate for a pastor to own and wear such expensive items.
At a press conference on Friday, Whitehead denied the figures and accused reporters of fabricating them, despite having previously said he had been robbed of “hundreds of thousands of dollars” worth of jewelry in Instagram posts.
“Everybody is setting the narrative that all of this, there was a million dollars, it was $400,000, all that garbage, nobody can quote that I said any of that,” he said. “But to sell newspapers and to sell media, y'all put whatever number you want on its face and I don't get the opportunity to defend myself.”
The NYPD provided Gothamist with an itemized list of the items stolen as reported to them by Whitehead including a $390,000 Cuban link chain, a $125,000 wedding ring and a $75,000 Cavalier watch. The total value of the items was estimated at $1,080,000, police said. Other items included $25,000 earrings, a $75,000 Rolex, a $20,000 Episcopal cross, a $15,000 gold chain, $50,000 wedding ring, a $25,000 Episcopal ring, a $10,000 gold chain, a $200,000 gold chain, a $20,000 emerald cross, and a $50,000 Episcopal ring.
But his finances have been the subject of public attention beyond his lavish taste. A 2021 lawsuit filed against him by a parishioner claiming he stole her life savings came to light this week when it was reported on by The City.
The suit alleges that Whitehead convinced 56-year-old Pauline Anderson to invest $90,000 in one of his firms, promising to use the money to buy her a home. Anderson claims she wrote Whitehead a cashier’s check in November 2020 under the agreement he would provide her with $100 a month to live off of until the home he purchased for her was move-in ready. She never received a receipt or contract, according to the complaint.
Whitehead never sent her the monthly allowances, and eventually said he was under no obligation to return it to her, the lawsuit alleges. Instead, according to the complaint, he used the money as a down payment for a $4.4 million mansion in Saddle River, New Jersey.
“Ms. Anderson was instead left with nothing but a vague promise by Mr. Whitehead to pay the funds back in the future followed by an assertion that he had no further obligation to do so,” the suit said.
On Wednesday, a judge denied a motion by Anderson to obtain a default judgment. Her lawsuit remains ongoing. An attorney for Anderson did not return requests for comment.
At the press conference Friday, Whitehead called the claims in the suit false, and the denial a victory, but would not elaborate further.
“I can't get into the legality of this fictitious claim against me,” he said. “We gained a victory today. So everybody that's been posting about Bishop, I want you to understand that you're seeing a true man of God.”
Accusations of Whitehead’s alleged malfeasance with other people’s money extend beyond the lawsuit against him. In 2016, the New York Post reported that he still owed Monterey Symphony conductor Maximo Bragado-Darman $260,000 for an outstanding court judgment over an unpaid personal loan. He’s also served time in the past for convictions for identity fraud and grand larceny.
At the press conference on Friday, Whitehead also called on the mayor, governor and other legislators to enact a law that would allow clergy members to carry guns, citing what he said was a security emergency amongst houses of worship.
“If the teachers can have it, we should be able to have it. No matter if we have a record it should be exempt, because we've changed our life,” he said. “And you say well, why do you have to carry pistols and why did–why can't you all have security? Well, some churches are too small to afford armed security. So we should be able to bear arms like the constitution said.”
Mayor Eric Adams, who is a supporter of Whitehead, has long insisted clergy members be protected but only by trained security personnel in places of worship. New York City requires background checks for anyone looking to obtain a legal firearm.
On Friday the mayor said he would continue to be a mentor to Whitehead.
“I have always maintained relationships with people who have gone through traumatic experiences and my goal is to mentor people who go through crises,” he said. “Lamor and any other individual that I support, I continue to try to mentor. As a Black man, I have an obligation to mentor other Black men that had negative encounters in their lives and other people in general. And that's what I will continue to do.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misinterpreted the status of the case. Pauline Anderson's lawsuit against Bishop Lamor Whitehead is ongoing, according to court records. The date the judge denied a motion for a default judgement was also previously incorrect. The ruling happened Wednesday, according to court records.