CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- If you grew up around church, you probably know about the Christian practice of tithes: giving one-tenth of all earnings to the church. A Washington D.C. woman was religious about her giving to her church, the United House of Prayer for All People, which has strong historic ties to the Carolinas. There's just one thing; federal prosecutors say the money she gave to the church was stolen.
Ephonia Green was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison for embezzling $5.1 million from her job at the non-profit Association of American Medical Colleges. Green admitted doctoring fake invoices with names similar to legitimate institutions like the Brookings Institute to divert the money to herself.
The feds tracked the money to her homes, vacation properties, clothing, cars and her bridal gown business. But there's one other place they say she spent that money, her church, where they say she donated almost $1 million, and was one of the top 10 givers.
The United House of Prayer for All People has more of its churches in Charlotte than in any other city. Bishop C.M. "Sweet Daddy" Bailey makes regular visits, as members treat him like royalty. Members shower the Bishop with cash money. He rides in ultra-luxury in a custom made Maybach automobile from Germany. Bailey lives in mansions owned by the church, including one in the Derita neighborhood of Charlotte, on West Sugar Creek Road.
The United House of Prayer has stood by Ephonia Green, even after the embezzlement charges. This is particularly galling to Rev. Ronald Belton, a Charlotte-based former national evangelist for the church who spent his life in the United House of Prayer.
"She still goes to church, she still has her seat and she's still recognized as top 10," said Belton, who has filed repeated lawsuits after he says the Bishop threw him out of the church in a move Belton regards as personal.
The Bishop has not responded to repeated requests from NBC Charlotte for an interview about Belton or Ephonia Green.
The U.S. Department of Justice is demanding that Ms. Green sell her homes, cars and bridal business to begin to pay back the $5.1 million. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in D.C. says the office cannot comment on ongoing investigations, but works to track down all assets that are illegally obtained.