- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A federal judge sentenced a Waldorf minister to 27 months in prison Monday and ordered he pay more than $630,000 in restitution for obstructing bankruptcy court proceedings by hiding assets purchased with church funds, including a $1.75 million waterfront mansion and a fleet of luxury cars.
The Rev. Robert J. “Dr. Shine” Freeman, 56, 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 began using church funds to buy a number of assets, including 11 luxury cars valued at more than $1,073,000 and a 9,000-square-foot home on Rivers Edge Place overlooking the Potomac River, all of which he hid from bankruptcy court while seeking a discharge from his debts in 2005, according to his plea agreement with federal prosecutors.
Freeman was indicted in December 2010 on charges of obstructing court proceedings, making false statements and falsifying records in bankruptcy proceedings.
He pleaded guilty July 18, 2011, and faced a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, but sentencing guidelines, given Freeman’s criminal history, suggested his sentence would likely fall between 21 and 27 months, U.S Attorney for the District of Maryland spokeswoman Marcia Murphy said at the time of Freeman’s plea.
In addition to the prison term and restitution, U.S. District Judge Roger W. Titus sentenced Freeman to three years of supervised probation upon his release.
“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 cars and a mansion while falsely representing in court that he was indigent,” U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in a news release announcing Freeman’s sentence.
According to his plea agreement, Freeman bought two Lincoln Town Cars in 2002 for more than $55,000, a Mercedes-Benz in 2003 for nearly $40,000 and his mansion in 2004, all under the names of church members. The home included a 20,000-pound covered boat lift, deep-water pier, personal watercraft lift, two four-car garages, five fireplaces and a gym with a steam room.
The binge continued, as Freeman also bought two Volkswagen Phaetons in 2004 for more than $140,000, again in a church member’s name. He purchased a Bentley Arnage and leased 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 his plea.
By October 2005, Freeman and his wife had racked up more than $1.3 million in debts, including $846,000 in house payments, more than $87,000 in lease payments on a private jet, $220,000 in loan payments on a bus and more than $160,000 for payments on musical instruments.
Freeman filed for bankruptcy Oct. 14, 2005, seeking to adjust or completely discharge his debts, but he hid the home and luxury cars he had bought with church funds from the bankruptcy court. He also falsely reported his occupation as a consultant for a maintenance company and did not disclose any income from his ministry, according to his plea.
During a court hearing, Freeman falsely testified that his ministry had gone out of business and that he was renting a Waldorf home from friends. He also produced fake pay stubs from the maintenance company he claimed as his employer, the plea states.
Based on the false information, the bankruptcy court granted Freeman a discharge from hundreds of thousands of dollars in debts.
In the following weeks, Freeman bought two more Mercedes-Benzes and a Lincoln Navigator in the name of a church member for more than $430,000, according to the plea.
“Concealing assets and making false statements in bankruptcy court is a crime,” said Special Agent in Charge Rick A. Raven of the Internal Revenue Service, a chief investigator in the case. “The prosecution of individuals, such as Mr. Freeman, who intentionally conceal assets and commit bankruptcy fraud ranks high on the list of IRS Criminal Investigation’s enforcement priorities.”
Last month, Titus sentenced Jeffrey Mont, 33, of Indian Head, the former treasurer at Seed Faith International Church, to two years’ probation, nine months of home detention and 40 hours of community service for helping Freeman cover up his assets.
Mont, also known as “J.J. Mont,” pleaded guilty March 15 to obstructing court proceedings by helping Freeman doctor and submit backdated, false documents in December 2009 in response to a federal grand jury subpoena seeking corporate records.