The Brooklyn pastor who made headlines when he was robbed of an estimated $1m in jewelry during a church service being broadcast online in July was arrested on federal fraud charges on Monday after he allegedly swindled parishioners.
US prosecutors in Manhattan charged that Lamor Whitehead, 44, solicited money from victims – including $90,000 from a retired parishioner – using threats or false promises of enriching them, but then pocketed the money for himself and sometimes spent it on luxury goods.
Whitehead, the self-styled bishop of Leaders of Tomorrow International Ministries, is also accused of lying to FBI investigators. He was arrested early on Monday and scheduled to be arraigned in federal court later in the day.
“As we allege today, Lamor Whitehead abused the trust placed in him by a parishioner, bullied a businessman for $5,000, then tried to defraud him of far more than that, and lied to federal agents,” US attorney Damian Williams said in a statement. “His campaign of fraud and deceit stops now.”
FBI assistant director Michael Driscoll said that Whitehead had carried out several duplicitous schemes in order to receive funds from his victims and then chose to mislead investigators.
“If you are willing to attempt to obtain funds through false promises or threats, the FBI will ensure that you are made to face the consequences for your actions in our criminal justice system,” Driscoll said.
The wire fraud and extortion charges against Whitehead each carry maximum sentences of 20 years in prison. Lying to investigators, or making material false statements, carries a maximum of five years.
A lawyer for Whitehead, Dawn Florio, said that her client “denies these allegations” and promised “to fight them vigorously”.
Two men were charged in September with the armed robbery of Whitehead over the summer. The charges against Whitehead predate the robbery, with some of the alleged fraud dating back to 2020.
A recent account by New York magazine found that the robbery could have been casually connected to Whitehead’s efforts to intervene in a shooting investigation in June after a Goldman Sachs employee named Daniel Enriquez was killed on a New York subway train by a gunman police identified as Andrew Abdullah.
Abdullah’s aunt, also one of Whitehead’s parishioners, had alerted Whitehead and asked for his help. The pastor then tried to broker an exchange between Abdullah, the New York City police department and the city’s mayor, Eric Adams.
After his arrest, Whitehead had visited the suspect in police detention, arriving in a Fendi suit jacket and driving a Rolls-Royce sport-utility vehicle. Six weeks later, the so-called “bling-bling bishop” was robbed at gunpoint by thieves who made off with his jewelry, including a $390,000 Cuban link chain and a $75,000 Rolex.
Local news media then dug up Whitehead’s prior criminal history, including a 2008 identity-theft conviction for which he served five years in the state prison known as Sing Sing. They also discovered a 2021 civil claim for $90,000 that now appears to form part of the federal indictment unsealed on Monday.
Soon after the robbery, Whitehead was interviewed by the rapper Fat Joe, who pinpointed the bishop’s predicament. “It’s kinda messed up that you got robbed, but people don’t believe you got robbed,” he remarked.
Whitehead, the magazine noted, counts a number of legit hip-hop connections. Foxy Brown is his cousin; 50 Cent once spoke at a church event he had organized. In a run to replace Adams as the Brooklyn borough president last year, Whitehead said he had bonded with Adams over his father’s killing when he was 15.
“Everybody looks at the man as a mayor – I look at Eric different,” Whitehead said. “I look at him as a person who helped save my manhood.”
But he denied that the attempt to broker a deal between Abdullah and police was criminal justice showboating. “It’s not about loving the camera,” he told the magazine. “Just because I’m dressed for the day and have a Fendi coat on, I’m not supposed to be a pastor?
“I represent that, with Jesus, you can go through the storm. I think I should get the front page. You don’t think I should get it? I think I was the face of the year.”