A Brooklyn pastor who gained notoriety earlier this year, after he was robbed of more than $1 million in jewelry mid-sermon, was arrested Monday on fraud and extortion charges.
Lamor Whitehead, the 45-year-old clergyman and longtime friend of Mayor Eric Adams, is accused in a federal indictment of swindling one of his parishioners out of $90,000 in retirement savings.
In a separate scheme, Whitehead allegedly used threats of force to obtain $5,000 from a Bronx businessman. He later promised the same man he could “obtain favorable actions by the New York City government” if the man gave him $500,000 and a stake in certain real estate transactions, despite knowing “he had no ability to obtain such actions,” the indictment states.
“As we allege today, Lamor Whitehead abused the trust placed in him by a parishioner, bullied a businessman for $5,000, then tried to defraud him of far more than that, and lied to federal agents,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement. “His campaign of fraud and deceit stops now.”
An attorney for Whitehead, Dawn Florio, said her client would be "vigorously defending" himself against the allegations." He is being targeted and being turned into a villain from a victim," she said.
In May, Whitehead attempted to negotiate the surrender of the man who allegedly shot up a Q train in Manhattan, an idea he said he brokered with the mayor, according to news reports at the time. The handoff failed, and the man was arrested prior to the surrender.
Two months later, he was robbed at gunpoint of more than $1 million in jewelry – including a $390,000 Cuban link chain and a $75,000 Rolex – while delivering a sermon at the Leaders of Tomorrow International Ministries in Canarsie. The incident drew public scrutiny of Whitehead’s lavish lifestyle, and his yearslong relationship with Adams, who reportedly once described the bishop as “my good friend and good brother.”
In a statement provided by his office on Monday, Adams described the allegations against Whitehead as "troubling" but said he would reserve judgment on the case.
“I’ve spent decades enforcing the law and expect everyone to follow it," the mayor said. "I have also dedicated my life to assisting individuals with troubled pasts. While these allegations are troubling, I will withhold further comment until the process reaches its final conclusion.”
This summer, the mayor maintained his support for Whitehead, even after the news outlet The City reported that one of his parishioners, 56-year-old Pauline Anderson, was suing him, alleging he “fraudulently induced [her] to liquidate her entire life savings to pay him the investment of $90,000, promising to use the funds to purchase and renovate a house for her.” That alleged incident appeared to be at the heart of one of the accusations in the federal indictment.
After failing to follow through on his promise to help her purchase a house, Whitehead told Anderson the funds were being used as a campaign donation for his failed bid to replace Adams as Brooklyn borough president, according to the lawsuit. Those specific details aren’t addressed in the indictment.
Federal prosecutors said Whitehead used the money he’d stolen from a parishioner “to purchase thousands of dollars of luxury goods and clothing.”
“Whitehead never helped [the victim] obtain a home and has not returned [her] money, despite her request that he do so,” the indictment states.
In a recent interview with New York Magazine, speaking from his 9,000-square-foot home in Paramus, New Jersey, Whitehead struck a dismissive tone about the lawsuit, saying he owed the woman nothing. He also maintained that he was being targeted for being “godly and glamorous.” He said he’d been maligned for being a “bling-bling bishop.”
Whitehead faces two counts of wire fraud as well as one count of extortion, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. He also faces one count of making material false statements, which has a maximum sentence of five years.
This story was updated with a comment from Mayor Eric Adams.