Federal authorities have sentenced Houston megachurch Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell to six years in prison for his role in a multi-million-dollar investment fraud.
In an official response, leaders at Caldwell’s 18,000-member church—Windsor Village United Methodist—called Caldwell a “victim” and said the sentence was “disappointing.”
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Caldwell and business partner Gregory Alan Smith defrauded investors, many of whom were elderly, out of $3.5 million.
At his sentencing Wednesday, Caldwell said, “They trusted me with their money, and I abused that trust. I misled them. I profited at their expense, and for that, I am very sorry.”
However, in a video posted to Facebook, Floyd LeBlanc, chairman of the Windsor Village’s personnel committee said, “I believe Kirbyjon Caldwell was also a victim in this case. His victimization started when he chose the wrong business partners.”
Caldwell pled guilty to charges last March. He and Smith were ordered to pay back the amount they stole, plus pay a fine of $125,000, and serve six years in prison.
Caldwell became pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in the 1980s when it consisted of only 25 families. After the church grew into a megachurch, Caldwell became a nationally known figure and faith advisor to Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Despite pleading guilty to fraud last year, Caldwell has remained on staff at Windsor Village and served as a lay preacher. His wife Suzette Caldwell was named the church’s lead pastor after he surrendered his credentials.
In a Twitter message posted Thursday, Suzette Caldwell seemed to address the sentencing of her husband. “We all endure moments of difficultly,” she wrote. “If you’re facing a storm, know that it is only for a season, not a lifetime. This too shall pass!” she wrote.
We all endure moments of difficultly. If you’re facing a storm, know that it is only for a season, not a lifetime. This too shall pass!
— Suzette Caldwell (@SuzetteCaldwell) January 14, 2021
United Methodist Bishop Scott Jones of the Texas Conference responded in a statement that Caldwell has shown remorse and taken “extraordinary steps to repair the damage caused by his behavior. . . . Despite these mitigating factors, the judge issued the prison sentence.”
Just hours after sentencing, Windsor Village released a public video on the church’s Facebook page with the all-caps headline: “IT’S NOT OVER UNTIL IT’S OVER… THE KINGDOM BUILDING CONTINUES!”
In addition to calling his pastor a victim, Floyd LeBlanc cited in the video numerous good things the church and Caldwell have recently done, like distributing food during the pandemic. LeBlanc also noted that over the years, Caldwell has participated in projects, which have brought improvements and jobs into the community.
Given these contributions and the restitution his pastor has made, LeBlanc said he was disappointed Caldwell’s crimes resulted in prison sentence.
Dr. Julia Dahl, an image repair analyst and professor at the University of Michigan, labeled the church’s response a “denial of culpability and a deflection of blame.” She added, “Casting the perpetrator as a victim means that someone else is at fault.”
Dahl also objected to the church’s disappointment that Caldwell received jail time.
“To not punish him means that other grifters see that if they get caught, they just have to pay the money back and it all goes away. A pastor should know better.”
Caldwell’s attorney asked for the 67-year-old pastor to be sentenced to home confinement, saying he is at high risk for COVID-19 because of his prostate cancer and hypertension. The judge deferred Caldwell’s report date to prison until June.