Ex-chair gets 11 years in prison for stealing $11M from his L.A. church

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The former chairman of the board of a Los Angeles church was sentenced Monday to nearly 11 years in federal prison for stealing more than $11 million in church funds, prosecutors said.

Charles Thomas Sebesta, 56, pleaded guilty last year to wire fraud and bank fraud, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a news release. He’s been in federal custody since his arrest in August 2019.

A judge on Monday also ordered Sebesta to pay nearly $11.5 million in restitution to his former employer, the Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist, of Los Angeles.

The church hired Sebesta in 2001 as its facilities manager. He joined the church four years later and ultimately served as chairman, giving him control over financial assets and operations, including bank accounts.

Prosecutors said Sebesta made payments to bank accounts in the name of fictitious companies he created, as well as to accounts he held in his own name and in the names of his family members and a female companion.

After he oversaw the sale of church property for approximately $12.8 million, prosecutors said Sebesta stole a significant majority of the proceeds for his personal use. At one point he purchased a home with more than $2 million in cashier’s checks drawn from church bank accounts, prosecutors said.

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