At trial’s start, prosecutor says Brooklyn preacher lied to get rich, a claim his lawyer disputes

Feb 25, 2024, 9:07 PM

FILE - Bishop Lamor Miller-Whitehead speaks with the media, May 24, 2022, in New York. The Brooklyn...

FILE - Bishop Lamor Miller-Whitehead speaks with the media, May 24, 2022, in New York. The Brooklyn preacher who prosecutors say looted a parishioner's retirement savings and tried to extort a businessman to fuel his lavish lifestyle goes on trial Monday, Feb. 26, 2024, in Manhattan federal court. Miller-Whitehead faces trial two years after a grand jury lodged wire fraud and attempted extortion charges against him. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — A prosecutor told a jury at the start of a fraud trial Monday that a Brooklyn preacher exaggerated his ties to New York City Mayor Eric Adams and let greed overtake him as he looted a parishioner’s retirement savings and tried to extort a businessman to fuel his lavish lifestyle. His lawyer said the government is wrong.

Lamor Miller-Whitehead, 47, a Rolls Royce-driving bishop, was accused by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Greenwood of telling the owner of an auto repair shop that he could get the mayor to “do official favors” if he and the businessman teamed up on real estate deals that could earn them millions of dollars.

In Manhattan federal court, Greenwood called Miller-Whitehead a “con man who told lie after lie to victim after victim, committing crime after crime.”

She said he was “willing to lie, cheat and steal to keep up his appearance of wealth,” which included fancy cars, designer clothing and the mansion where he lived.

Miller-Whitehead has pleaded not guilty to wire fraud, attempted extortion and making false statements to federal law enforcement officials.

His attorney, Dawn Florio, told jurors to keep their minds open because the evidence they see won’t support the charges.

“The government has not met their burden of proof,” she said.

Miller-Whitehead has been free on $500,000 bail since his arrest, which came only months after he was the victim of a robbery when $1 million in jewelry was stolen from him by gunmen who surprised him during a church service.

Miller-Whitehead developed a friendship with the city’s mayor while Adams served as Brooklyn’s borough president before his election to the city’s top job.

At a news conference last week, the mayor was asked about legal filings in the case indicating prosecutors planned to show jurors evidence that Miller-Whitehead used the name of Adams to commit fraud and attempted extortion.

Adams responded that anyone reporting about it should “quote the documents that stated that clearly he did not have authorization and there was no connectivity to the actions of (the) mayor or borough president.”

Among pretrial evidentiary rulings, the judge has agreed to exclude mention of Miller-Whitehead’s criminal conviction for identity theft and grand larceny, which resulted in a five-year prison stint, although it could be brought up if he decides to testify.

Miller-Whitehead became a religious figure when he formed the Leaders of Tomorrow International Ministries in 2013.

Although he preaches in Brooklyn, he owns a $1.6 million home in Paramus, New Jersey, and an apartment in Hartford, Connecticut.

Prosecutors allege he bilked a parishioner out of $90,000 in retirement savings by falsely promising he would find her a home and invest the rest in his real estate business. Prosecutors say he instead spent the money on luxury goods and clothing.

But Florio told the jury that the parishioner was actually cheated by her son, who borrowed the $90,000 from her and got her to cosign a loan for his own home, leaving the woman unable to purchase a home for herself.

Miller-Whitehead also is charged with trying to convince a businessman to lend him $500,000 and give him a stake in real estate deals by claiming his ties to city officials could earn favorable treatment for the businessman’s interests.

The businessman, Brandon Belmonte, complained to federal authorities, who initiated a half-year probe in 2022 that culminated in Miller-Whitehead’s arrest.

Florio said her client was innocent of that charge as well because it was a civil dispute between Miller-Whitehead and Belmonte, not a criminal matter.

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At trial’s start, prosecutor says Brooklyn preacher lied to get rich, a claim his lawyer disputes