Fellowship Church Ed Young

Former Employee Sentenced to 10 Years for Stealing $1 Million From Ed Young’s Church

By Jackson Elliott

A former employee of Ed Young’s megachurch has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for embezzling more than $300,000 over 11 years, according to Texas court documents.

Since 2005, Lara Ford worked as a business administrator and staff services manager for Young’s Fellowship Church in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, one of the 10 largest churches in the country. On April 16, Ford pled guilty to embezzling more than $300,000 from Fellowship from 2008 to 2019—a first-degree felony.

According to Ford’s lawyer, Lex Johnston, Fellowship Church first discovered Ford’s theft during an audit on April 12, 2019, and then notified authorities.

The church’s security director, Jimmy Bowen, told police at the time that Ford had admitted to stealing funds, according to Amanda McNew, Grapevine Police Department media manager.

Johnson told The Roys Report that the actual amount Ford embezzled is far more than court documents indicate. He said Fellowship Church claimed that over $1.6 million in cash was missing.

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McNew said she believed the amount stolen was smaller: about $1.06 million. She added that all the money was gone when police began their investigation.

“It was a lot—a whole lot,” Johnston said, adding, “How a church can be missing that much money without noticing is just unfathomable.”

According to McNew, Ford hid her theft by creating fake transactions to vendors. With her access to the church’s bank account, she sent the money to herself. She increased her own housing allowance and made automated clearing house payments to her own bank account.

McNew added that Ford was the only suspect in the case and Fellowship Church fully cooperated in the investigation.

Yet, Johnston said it was startling that it took 11 years for church leaders to notice the missing money.

“I think that it’s quite suspect that somebody could steal the amount of money that they allege was stolen without them noticing it,” Johnston said. “I really have a hard time understanding how any church could be missing that much money.”

The Roys Report reached out to Fellowship Church for comment, but no one responded.

Church audit expert Keith Clark-Hoyos said the size and duration of the theft signal problems in Fellowship Church’s internal checks and balances. Ford’s embezzlement methods are common, but the fact that she wasn’t caught for so long is unusual.

The average embezzlement takes place over only three years, he said. The fact that Fellowship failed to notice an 11-year case that stole massive amounts of money shows that Ford had little oversight.

“Why is a business administrator doing online banking?” Clark-Hoyos said. “(Churches should) separate authority from custody from bookkeeping from bank reconciliation. If those people are separate, fraud is very hard.”

During the time Ford embezzled money, Fellowship Church went through at least two audits, Johnston said. One was conducted by the church’s current chief financial officer, Dennis Brewer. The other was conducted by Stanfield and O’Dell, an independent firm specializing in church audits.

Both audits reported nothing irregular.

Most of the time, external audits don’t find fraud because they don’t look at internal systems, said Clark-Hoyos. He added that internal audits often find nothing because they’re led by the church’s financial leadership, rather than an independent volunteer committee.

“You can’t have a system check itself,” Clark-Hoyos said.

He added, “I think that (the fraud going undetected) is a real indicator that this church did not have a healthy financial policy and procedure system in place.”

Despite the massive amount of missing cash, there appears to be no mention of Ford’s theft on the church’s website. Searches for “Lara Ford,” “theft,” and “embezzlement” on the website reveal no results.

Although Ford was sentenced to 10 years in prison, it’s unlikely that she will serve her full sentence, said Johnston. Her sentence could be reviewed in as soon as 18 months.

Jackson ElliottJackson Elliott is a Christian journalist trained at Northwestern University. He has worked at The Daily Signal, The Inlander, and The Christian Post, covering topics ranging from D.C. politics to prison ministry. His interests include the Bible, philosophy, theology, Russian literature, and Irish music.

 

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19 thoughts on “Former Employee Sentenced to 10 Years for Stealing $1 Million From Ed Young’s Church”

  1. That’s unreal it took that long to discover. Obviously they need to improve their systems and have more regular audits by third parties. I wonder if she started living a lifestyle too far above her salary and that’s what tipped someone off.

  2. I’d rethink my CFO and head of security, for starters. She hardly appears to be a criminal mastermind, though looks can be deceiving. Perhaps Netflix needs to do a documentary on this case!

    1. David Harden

      You greatly underestimate a thief by their looks. Do you look like a pastor/preacher? I’m sure you Think that you do. Also, they have a fantastic CFO. I have worked fraud cases (forensic fraud ) and what I have studied (pulled the court jacket) , she (this woman) is brilliant.

  3. I’m a CPA and used to be a auditor of nonprofit organizations. This is, sadly, all too common. This is why good internal controls and a proper separation of duties is so important in the finance/accounting department of any organization.

    The article mentions two audits. The first, internal one is not a true audit since it was internal (and thus, not independent of the organization being audited). However, the fact that the second audit, by the firm Stanfield and O’Dell, didn’t catch it sounds like a case of malpractice. If I were the church, I would file a malpractice suit against that firm in a heartbeat. Auditors have been *required* to audit internal controls as part of the audit, ever since the Sarbanes–Oxley Act of 2002. They either didn’t or had no idea how to properly execute that part of the audit.

    1. Leeza, Ditto from another CPA and auditor of nonprofit organizations. Outside auditors should have reported the lack of internal controls and separation of duties. The church could also file a formal complaint with Texas State Board of Public Accountancy.

  4. This may sound simplistic, but maybe this lady was well-liked and trusted so her activities weren’t looked into closely. Or maybe because this church is so large with a lot of activity there was failure in monitoring financial matters properly. In a much smaller situation I worked at a church where I suspected one of my coworkers of stealing. Several of us did and discreetly brought it to leadership, but they wouldn’t investigate it, partly I believe, she was likeable and reliable. It hurt the integrity of the work environment and the reputation of the ministry we were involved in.

  5. Maybe Ed Young will have to sell one of his houses or jets to cover the cost. Or maybe his enormous salary is the reason the church had such poor controls in place. Is it even stealing when one thief takes from another thief?

    1. Crystal L Brooks

      Wow. Your comment really is not necessary. What does his personal wealth have to do with the fact that this person stole from the church? She did not steal from him, but from the church itself where people pay tithes and offerings. He’s a successful writer amongst other things. And really…given the death of his daughter, making a derogatory comment here about him is uncalled for.

      1. What does his personal wealth have to do with the fact that this person stole from the church?

        ***

        Crystal, where do you think his wealth comes from? I guess you have not seen him berate his congregation about not tithing. I guess the fact that his lifestyle and wealth are far beyond reasonable for a pastor does not matter. And no wonder this woman was able to steal so much without being noticed. What’s a million dollars to a church that takes in so much more? Ed Young has been fleecing his congregation for years; maybe this lady just learned from his example.

      2. I am not sure what the death of his daughter has to do with money? You mean someone can’t question him because his daugher died? Please clarify that one for me.

        It seems like we have this unequal scale for those in the pew and those in leadership. They get a break but we don’t even if the circumstances are the same. It is so weird. I noticed that with Ravi Zacharias. It is this creepy thinking that leaders are untouchable. They belong to the club and we don’t. I am not really comfortable with this train of thought.

      3. Likely hireling Ed Young is a “successful writer” and sermon-giver like many other megachurch pastors with their teams of underling researchers and ghost writers to do most of the work, while they put their names on the books and rake in the big bucks in addition to their ridiculous, ungodly salaries from donations to the church. The 2 articles by Bob Smietana posted on The Roys Report this week have been instructive about such deceptions.

        A few details about Ed Young’s opulent lifestyle from a 2010 article:

        https://www.kens5.com/article/news/prominent-grapevine-pastor-linked-to-luxury/273-353141813

        “But FAA records show that as soon as Young took possession of the jet in 2007, the aircraft logged a week-long trip to the Bahamas.

        One month later, Young’s jet logged a six-day trip to Chetumal, Mexico, also known as the gateway to Belize.

        But it’s not just the jet and the international travel the Young keeps out of sight.

        News 8 has also learned that Young’s 10,000 square foot, $1.5 million estate on Lake Grapevine is not listed on the tax rolls in his name, but rather in the name of Palometa Revocable Trust.

        Records show that Young was paid $240,000 a year as a parsonage allowance; that’s in addition what sources say is a $1 million yearly pastor’s salary.”

      4. Darren is on point. Ed Young probably relied on her to do shady stuff. She probably thought that she might as well help herself while doing Ed’s dirty work.

  6. Crystal L Brooks

    I wonder how they will address this with their congregation. Stealing over a million dollars is a lot. Given the size of the church, they needed better controls in place. I would be curious to know what she spent the money on. This was brazen to have funds deposited directly to your own account. Although, she stole over a million, she’s only being charged with $300,000. And most likely, she will have to make restitution once she’s out of prison. They usually do even though it is not stated in the article.

  7. Years ago in the 1990s the treasurer for the church I used to attend embezzled over $350,000 this eventually led to the closure of the school connected to the church. At first the elders and trustees of the church were lax in investigating the issue. If more measures were put in place the theft would have been more difficult to pull off.

  8. I work in the finance department of my church as Administrative Support. Have for 30 years.

    Our Church PURPOSELY INSTALLED non profit accounting software that tracks every single keystroke DIRECTY back to me…with a dedicated username and password assigned.

    My co-worker who is a CPA, is responsible for monthly reconciliation of EVERYTHING I do.

    I am NOT a signer on any accounts.

    Every five years an INTERNAL AUDIT is completed by an outside 3rd party Christian CPA, and the Church I am a member of and as well as an employee… has a membership of only 250.

  9. They didn’t miss roughly a million bucks over a 10 year period?
    I’m sure this church was awash in cash. It serves to remind us that Je$u$, Inc., is Big Business.

  10. Money went missing so someone or many persons involved in the handling or oversight of Church money were fools.

    As the saying goes “A fool and his money are soon parted”

    It is written. “In wisdoms house you will find delightful treasures and the oil of the Holy Spirit. But the stupid squander what they have been given”

  11. CFO should be fired. He’s responsible overall, but he’s Ed’s right hand man and attorney. She was such a stickler on everyone else about every expense and not a very nice person. Why the heck would she need her own housing allowance? There’s too many pieces in this story that don’t add up. Truth always comes out. No telling how many other ways FC has mismanaged money. Got I got out of there when I did!

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