In a recent sermon on how God can set things aright, the pastor at Rock Creek Baptist Church said the church had been released from all debts stemming from an alleged scheme officials say was meant to trick the church into paying for overpriced informational kiosks.

“We were relieved,” the Rev. Jeffrey L. Mitchell Sr., told his congregants this past Sunday at the church, located at 4201 N. 8th St., NW. “They stopped all actions on payments.”

Rock Creek Baptist Church is one of five predominantly African-American D.C. churches being released from debts through a settlement reached between the District of Columbia and the Irvine, Calif.-based Balboa Capital Corporation.

The development was welcome news to the Rock Creek congregants who pool their resources to take care of more pressing needs, such as school supplies as the 2010-2011 school year kicks into gear.

“We want to thank God that we were released from everything,” Rev. Mitchell said.

The settlement blocks Balboa from collecting tens of thousands in lease payments from Rock Creek Baptist Church and four other churches: House of Help/City of Hope, 2322 16th St, SE; Lane Memorial Christian Methodist Episcopal, 1423 C. St., NE; Miles Memorial Colored Methodist Episcopal Church, 501 N. St., NW; and The Way of the Cross Church of Christ,

In the case of Rock Creek Baptist Church and Lane Memorial Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Balboa is being ordered to pay the churches $2,000 each in restitution, court records show.

Though the District of Columbia Attorney General’s Office had accused Balboa and local vendors Television Broadcast Online, Inc. (TVBO) and Urban Interfaith Network, Inc., of “tricking” the churches into paying for overpriced kiosks, the settlement states that Balboa denies the allegations and maintains that it was not complicit in a scheme. Through the alleged scheme, TVBO, Urban Interfaith Network and Balboa, as well as three leasing companies “deceptively marketed” computer equipment leases to dozens of predominantly African-American churches in D.C., according to the Attorney General’s office.

Efforts to reach officials at Balboa, TVBO and Urban Interfaith Network were not successful.

According to the District’s complaint, TVBO and Urban Interfaith Network promised to give the churches some free “informational kiosks” to publicize church and community events, as well as job listings and coupons for local businesses.

By telling the churches that sponsors had already agreed to advertising that would cover the cost, TVBO and Urban Interfaith Network convinced church leaders to sign leases for the kiosks, according to the Attorney General. But after the sponsorships failed to take shape, many of the churches were being hounded by the leasing companies for tens of thousands of dollars.

“These leases were the product of deceptive marketing practices and should not be enforced against the churches,” Attorney General Peter Nickles said.

The District is continuing to prosecute its action against the remaining defendants, including Chesapeake Industrial Leasing Co., Inc., based in Baltimore, and United Leasing Associates of America, Ltd., based in Wisconsin.

 

Jamaal Abdul-Alim

Special to the AFRO