Fishers of Men: Pastor And Associates Get Prison Time For Fraud

It was almost two years ago that we wrote about the Fishers of Men scandal, a church in southwest Houston whose pastor and associates were charged with various financial shenanigans.

It sparked a comment war between defenders and accusers that lasted so long and got so vicious we had to shut it down.

Score one for the accusers: The U.S. Attorney's office announced today that two pastors and a deacon were sentenced to more than three years in federal prison for fraud involving FEMA and student loans.

Says the U.S. Attorney:

Pastor Sheila Diana Washington, 49, and deacon/church treasurer Tony Overstreet, 44, were sentenced to 63 and 43 months in federal prison, respectively, to be followed by a five-year terms of supervised release for their bank fraud convictions relating to a student loan scam. Both were further ordered to pay $830,000 in restitution to Bank One and Wells Fargo.

At the same hearing, Pastor Eric Washington, 56, was sentenced to 40 months and ordered to pay $218,000 in restitution to FEMA for conspiring to defraud the United States by having FOM submit grossly inflated claims for reimbursement to Harris County for a FEMA-funded program that reimbursed groups sheltering Hurricane Katrina evacuees during fall 2005

U.S. District Judge David Hittner sent the trio off to prison immediately.

Sheila Washington and Overstreet had pleaded guilty to having students at the school apply for loans that would go to the church, with the promise that the church would repay them.

When they ran out of church members who were actually enrolled in college, they began listing church members who were not enrolled in college as applicants on the student loans. In total, the scheme resulted in applications seeking more than $4 million in student loans.

Very few, if any, payments were made on the loans which were disbursed. Bank records confirmed the student loan proceeds were diverted to accounts controlled by Sheila Washington or Overstreet and not used for educational expenses.

Eric Washington pleaded guilty to FEMA fraud in connection with the Fishers of Men (FOM) church.

The Harris County Commissioner's Court approved the FOM contract on Oct. 26, 2005. The next day, FOM submitted an invoice stating that 250 evacuees stayed at FOM every single day in September and then 118 evacuees stayed at FOM every single day in October.

After Harris County sent FOM a letter noting the implausibility of no evacuees leaving except for one day when 132 purportedly left, Eric Washington sent a reply vouching for the accuracy of the numbers. This resulted in $320,580 in FEMA funds being paid to FOM.

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Richard Connelly
Contact: Richard Connelly