Former board members to Pastor Morris: Where's the money?

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by By / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on October 9, 2009 at 4:09 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 14 at 4:01 PM

Video: Former board members to Pastor Morris: Where's the money?

We first told you about Pastor Tony Morris last year. He is the preacher who borrowed more than a million dollars from church members and other pastors and never paid them back.

A bankruptcy court is scouring through his records and we've seen them. There is more than a million dollars that's moved through a charity he ran and there is nothing to show for it.

There may be millions of reasons why Pastor Tony Morris won't answer the door at his palatial home.

The charismatic leader of Renton's New Covenant Christian Center never repaid hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans from churches across the country and from his own church members.

One of them is Kirk Russell.

"We're just trying to get our money back and if we can't get our money back," he said. "I think it's only fair for him to liquidate any assets he has and put some resolution to this for myself and other people he owes."

Pastor Morris owes Russell more than $200,000 - money Morris said was going to a nonprofit organization called The Center For Empowerment (CFE).

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Vivian Phillips was on the board.

"We were all passionate about the mission of the organization and it was really about empowering and equipping families to reach a higher quality of life," she said.

The Center For Empowerment rented office space in the Zion Preparatory Academy. It helped with training and financial resources for inner city families and businesses. It partnered with organizations like The Coalition for Community Renewal and Development who built homes for Katrina victims in Seattle.

Jesse Jones: "When you saw these documents this was a shock to you?"

Vivian Phillips: "Absolutely no idea. I can't be more emphatic that this is all new information."

Phillips was shocked at the bank records we uncovered. They show more than $1.6 million passed though the Center For Empowerment account from 2002 to 2005.

Jesse Jones: "Where did the money go?"

Vivian Phillips: "No one can account for it? I would add what board members know, discussed and recollect is that we were consistently unable to secure financial information."

According to court documents, in October 2003 board members asked Morris to shut the center down thinking it was in debt.

Mysteriously, hundreds of thousands of dollars kept pouring in the center's bank account until 2005.

"It also raises questions as to whether this Center For Empowerment after a certain point in time was just essentially a slush fund or back account to run money through," said Russell's attorney, Larry Glosser.

Records show cash was wired out of the United States to international financial institutions.

"This all may be very innocent and there may be an explanation for it, but he's got the obligation to come forth and explain it and he up to this point has elected to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights against implicating himself criminally," said Glosser.

That's right. Pastor Morris is now taking the Fifth, refusing to explain key financial doings in recent bankruptcy depositions.

Also unexplained is a $50,000 American Express bill paid by the church. In it: a timeshare in Florida, shopping sprees on clothes and designer handbags, and trips to Los Angeles, Orlando and New Orleans.

Emory Tungsvik was a church member.

Jesse Jones: "General membership wouldn't know what's behind the scenes? Was there any clue that any of this was going on?"

Emory Tungsvik : "Not initially, not until the stuff started coming out."

There are foreclosure proceedings on Pastor Morris's home. His list of creditors now includes the group that built homes for disaster victims. It loaned the pastor more than $140,000. Morris never repaid and it collapsed under the weight of that debt.

The former members of the board tell me they are discussing taking legal action against Pastor Morris.

There might be more than bankruptcy at stake here. If he willfully failed to file the proper paperwork for his nonprofit, he could face fines and jail time.

For consumer concerns, e-mail Jesse to or call toll-free 877-51-JESSE. Follow him on Twitter at .

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