Home Christian News New Orleans Pastor Pleads Guilty to Defrauding Donors, Laundering Nearly $900K

New Orleans Pastor Pleads Guilty to Defrauding Donors, Laundering Nearly $900K

Charles Southall III
Screengrab via Facebook @ Charles J Southall III

On Tuesday (October 18), Charles Southall III, who has served as pastor of First Emanuel Baptist Church in Louisiana for more than 30 years, pleaded guilty to money laundering and obtaining $889,565 through fraud. Southall had been charged with defrauding his church, which has locations in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, the church’s housing ministry, a charter school, and individual donors.

Who is Rev. Charles Southall III?

A graduate of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS), Southall lives in Baton Rouge, having moved there from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. He was installed as pastor of First Emanuel Baptist Church in 1989. He had apparently been able to hide his fraud by virtue of being a real estate investor in addition to his pastorate. 

Southall was charged following an investigation involving the FBI. 

According to prosecutors, Southall abused his position as pastor, over the course of years, to solicit and then steal donations from members of his church, at one time coercing $10,000 out of one congregant and then diverting the funds for personal use. In another instance, Southall stole the donations of another congregant given over the course of four years and meant for charity work and capital improvements to the church’s facility. The sum of that theft was $106,408.

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Southall also stole money from the church’s housing ministry, which owns rental properties, taking roughly $150,000 in rental payments for himself. He also stole more than $500,000 during the sales of certain properties. 

Further, while Southall was the board president of Spirit of Excellence Academy, a charter school in New Orleans he helped found, he secured funding to build a sister academy in Baton Rouge. While the new school never opened, according to prosecutors, Southall hired an employee for the new location. Southall diverted more than $220,000 of that person’s pay to an account owned jointly by himself and the employee over the course of four years. 

Spirit of Excellence Academy in New Orleans has since closed its doors due to academic and financial problems. 

Two days before entering his guilty plea, Southall could be seen preaching at First Emanuel Baptist Church, delivering a message titled “The Crown Jewels of Grace.”

“When I was watching the funeral procession of Queen Elizabeth, I was looking at that crown,” Southall said at one point. “And it had all these diamonds and different other types of rare jewels in it. And when I saw that, I thought about when we get to heaven.” Southall went on to discuss how followers of Jesus will be crowned with righteousness. 

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Southall also led a Facebook Live Bible study on Tuesday evening, the same day prosecutors announced his guilty plea. The theme of the study was “planting the seeds” that God has given you.