Ex-Chair Charged With Stealing $11.4M From L.A. Church, Using Money for Exclusive Disneyland Membership

A former leader of the Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist in Los Angeles was arrested Monday on a federal indictment alleging he stole more than $11 million from the church and used it to buy a home and membership at Disneyland’s exclusive Club 33, prosecutors said.

Charles Thomas Sebesta, 54, of Huntington Beach, made false payments from the church’s bank accounts and siphoned off proceeds from the 2008 sale of the church’s prominent Hollywood Boulevard flagship, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.

Sebesta faces six counts of wire fraud, five counts of bank fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft.

The defendant worked his way up to board chairman after being hired as the church’s facilities manager in 2001, officials said.

When he became the local chair in 2005, Sebesta had control of at least five of the church’s bank accounts and other assets

Over at least 10 years beginning in 2006, Sebesta allegedly paid money into personal bank accounts and ones he opened under fake company names, sometimes forging another church member’s signature on checks to help conceal the fraud.

The Mosaic Church in Hollywood, the property that formerly belonged to the Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist of Los Angeles, is seen in a Google Maps Street View image.

The Mosaic Church in Hollywood, the property that formerly belonged to the Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist of Los Angeles, is seen in a Google Maps Street View image.

When the church’s longtime location at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and La Brea Avenue sold for about $12.8 million in 2008, Sebesta is accused of funneling a significant majority of the proceeds for his own use. Investigators say he bought himself a home using over $2 million in cashier’s checks drawn from church bank accounts.

After using stolen church funds to buy a membership at Disneyland’s Club 33, he hosted executives from high-profile entertainment companies and professional sports teams at the dining club, prosecutors said.

He’s also accused of wiring more than $2 million from the church to his own tax accounts to generate overpayment refunds.

Officials say Sebesta would also create fake and accounts and impersonated a prominent real estate executive to further his scheme.

In addition to stealing at least $11.4 million from the church, he also took $34,032 from a private high school he worked for, prosecutors said.

The defendant was scheduled to make his first appearance in court Monday afternoon.

If convicted as charged, he could face a maximum sentence of more than 250 years in federal prison.

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