- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A Charles County minister pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. District Court to obstructing bankruptcy court proceedings by hiding assets purchased with church funds, including a $1.75 million waterfront mansion, a fleet of luxury cars and a private jet.
Robert “Dr. Shine” Freeman, 55, of Indian Head served as pastor and leader of Save the Seed Ministry, Save the Seed International and Seed Faith International churches, which he incorporated in 1991, 2001 and 2003, respectively.
Shortly after February 2001, Freeman used church funds to buy a number of assets, including 12 luxury cars valued at more than $1,073,000 and his 9,000-square-foot Indian Head house overlooking the Potomac River, all of which he kept from the bankruptcy court while seeking a discharge from his debts in 2005, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
In December, Freeman was indicted on charges of obstructing court proceedings, making false statements and falsifying records in bankruptcy proceedings.
“The evidence shows that Robert J. Freeman lived a life of fraud and deception, using millions of dollars from church members and fraudulently obtained credit to pay for luxury homes, cars, boats and even a jet airplane while falsely representing in court that he was indigent,” U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein said in a news release announcing the plea.
Freeman faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, but the maximum sentence he could likely receive under sentencing guidelines, subject to his criminal history, would be 21 to 27 months, said Marcia Murphy, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland.
U.S. District Judge Roger W. Titus scheduled sentencing for Nov. 28.
During a Tuesday phone interview, Rosenstein called Freeman “a swindler who was purporting to be a minister and taking advantage of the trust people had in him.”
“It's a somewhat uncommon scheme in that the defendant acquired all these vehicles in the name of parishioners while claiming he had no assets,” he said, adding that 95 percent of federal prosecutions result in guilty pleas because of how “selective” U.S. attorneys are in choosing cases.
Among the facts agreed to in Freeman's plea agreement were that in 2002 he had two Lincoln Town Cars purchased in the name of church members for more than $55,000. In 2003, he had a Mercedes-Benz bought in the name of another church member for nearly $40,000 and then in 2004 bought his 9,000-square-foot mansion on Rivers Edge Place in the name of another church member.
The mansion included a deep-water pier, 20,000-pound covered boat lift, personal watercraft lift, two four-car garages, five fireplaces and a gym complete with a steam room.
The binge did not end there, and in 2004 Freeman had two Volkswagen Phaetons purchased in the name of church members for more than $140,000. He bought a Bentley Arnage and a Maybach for more than $340,000 in 2005 and another Mercedes-Benz for more than $68,000 in 2006, all in the name of the same church member, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
By October 2005, Freeman and his wife owed debts totaling more than $1.3 million, including $846,000 in back rent, more than $87,000 in lease payments on a jet airplane, more than $160,000 for musical instruments and $220,000 in loan payments on a bus, according to court documents.
The Freemans filed for bankruptcy and in November 2005 submitted a list of assets and liabilities that omitted any real or personal property and reported Freeman as a consultant for a maintenance company.
The couple later falsely testified that they were living at a Waldorf residence and had lost their ministry while Freeman provided fake pay stubs to show he was employed by the maintenance company, the documents state.
The bankruptcy court granted Freeman a discharge from his debts in March 2006, after which he bought three Mercedes-Benz cars and a Lincoln Navigator totaling more than $430,000, again in a church member's name, according to court documents.
In addition to Freeman, prosecutors also indicted Jeffrey Mont, 32, of Indian Head, a volunteer with Seed Faith International Church, for helping Freeman submit backdated, false documentation to a federal grand jury in response to a subpoena seeking corporate records, the Maryland Independent previously reported.
Mont, also known as “J.J. Mont,” was charged with obstructing court proceedings and faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
His trial date has been scheduled for Oct. 18.