The Investigators: God's Work or Just Greed?
BAKER, LA (WAFB) - The 9News Investigators probed into a case involving the pastor of a Baton Rouge-area mega-church and tens of thousands of your tax dollars. The Louisiana Inspector General said Pastor Ricky Sinclair of Miracle Place Church violated multiple state and federal laws. Why then, almost four years later, has the case all but vanished?
Sinclair's ascension to leadership as pastor of his own church began while serving time in prison for dealing drugs. While behind bars, he said he gave his life to God. He said God turned despair into hope and success. He and his wife, Jeanie, direct their multi-faceted ministry. They offer addiction recovery with their 'All the Way House.' Weekly sermons are available through an online playlist.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav in 2008, CBS News singled out his goodness. Emergency shelters provided by his church gave weary evacuees a place to go. Sinclair said he was simply filling the gap left by government that people started showing up all through the day all through the night.
Many months later, complaints about the shelter and Miracle Place Church also began showing up. The complaints led to a full blown investigation of Sinclair and his wife. By March of 2011, the Louisiana Inspector General released a report that accused Sinclair of fraud. IG Stephen Street said a major question centered on whether money spent at Sinclair's shelters were for legitimate reimbursable expenses. Street said their investigation found massive fraud across the board. The matter was given to the US Attorney for Louisiana's Middle District with a recommendation to prosecute.
The IG investigation, which was conducted with FEMA, the FBI and Louisiana State Police, revealed alleged violations of state and federal laws related to shelters provided after Hurricane Gustav in 2008 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The report stated Sinclair made false statements on official FEMA labor documents following Katrina. As a result, investigators claim he pocketed an extra $81,000 of taxpayer money. Documents obtained in the IG's investigation showed that following Gustav, Sinclair initially claimed the government owed him more than $1.7 million in expenses and damages for the operation of his shelter. The high-dollar amount was questioned by Baker Mayor Harold Rideau and the claim was reduced to $380,000 before being submitted to FEMA.
The 9News Investigators went to Sinclair's church to ask the pastor himself about the long-standing charges. We were told he was away on business and to call back. Calls were repeatedly made to Sinclair, but we never could get him to speak with us. Then, his assistant pastor called me to say Sinclair would have no comment.
It's been more than three and a half years since the IG submitted findings to the US attorney of the state's middle district. What became of a case multiple state and federal agencies felt should be prosecuted? We learned that so far there has been nothing. We spoke with current US Attorney Walt Green, who told us the criminal case against Sinclair is now closed, at least in part, because the statute of limitations of five years had run out. The 9News Investigators learned, though, a possible civil case is pending.
Rafael Goyaneche, president of the crime-fighting watchdog Metropolitan Crime Commission, said if there is still litigation pending that would tend to corroborate that he applied for and received funds he wasn't eligible to receive and the government is trying to recoup those monies.
Throughout, the Sinclair's and MPC have denied any wrongdoing. His lawyer, Karl Koch, told us the U.S attorney and grand jury reviewed the case and did not proceed with any charges.
"They looked at this case and looked at it hard and decided not to prosecute Ricky Sinclair and I think that ought to be enough for all of us," Koch said. "That decision was made appropriately and that it's not right to go back and try to accuse him of a crime with no chance to clear his name at a trial."
Sinclair continues to maintain his innocence.
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