The Grand Rapids Press reports…
“After pastor Gary Petersen left Wellspring Church last fall, church officials dug up old church credit card statements that showed purchases at Victoria’s Secret, department stores and restaurants, testimony revealed.
Petersen, 62, was ordered to stand trial on an embezzlement charge after a hearing in Hudsonville District Court on Thursday, May 15.
Peterson was the pastor at Wellspring on Bauer Road until September, when he resigned.
During a probable cause hearing, the church’s finance committee chairman testified that he discovered more than $18,000 in questionable expenses on an American Express card in the church’s name but controlled by Petersen.
Among those were charges to Victoria’s Secret, Macy’s, Red Lobster, Marshall’s, Aldo shoes, Express, Blockbuster and Carrabbas.
“Gary Petersen was using this card as his own personal ATM,” Ottawa County Assistant Prosecutor Sarah Matwiejczyk said.
“He charged personal vacations, gas, clothing, restaurants, videos,” she said.
Among the larger items charged, prosecutors say, was $1,400 toward a cruise out of Rome and $1,500 toward a Colorado vacation.
Prosecutors allege Petersen opened the American Express card in 2006 and, initially, was providing monthly paper statements to the church bookkeeper.
At some point, however, that stopped when the account was switched to electronic statements.
Sharon Frye, former bookkeeper at Wellspring, said Petersen or his wife would periodically provide her with statements, but often three or four months in between each one.
Frye said Petersen’s wife did make “remittances” for personal expenses put on the card, but it wasn’t clear how much money was repaid.
Petersen’s attorney, Chris Brigman, argued that Petersen never tried to hide the existence of the credit card. In fact, evidence showed that other staff members at the church used it with Petersen’s permission.
Brigman also argued that other church staff members had the card number — to make church-related buys with Petersen’s permission — and could have made some of the purchases deemed questionable.
“(Petersen) did everything he could to make sure the finances of the institution were run correctly,” he said.
Jason Poll, the finance committee chairman, said he was aware an American Express card existed, but believed it was being used solely for mission trip expenses.
He testified he was not aware the bookkeeper was making payments on the card — from the church’s main account at Fifth Third Bank — without direct authorization from the finance committee.
Poll acknowledged that many purchases on the card were legitimate, but many others were not.
After Petersen left the church, Poll said he asked him to return the credit card and divulge the personal identification number needed to access statements. He said Petersen initially refused, but later relented and sent back the cut-up card and gave up the number.
Poll said he was surprised to find a $15,000 balance on the card.
Petersen is now pastor at The Rock Church in Grandville.
His departure caused a rift at Wellspring Church and some members followed Petersen to his new church.
In court on Thursday, supporters of Petersen sat on one side of the courtroom while Wellspring supporters sat on the other.”