Ex-Chairman for Christian Science Church in Los Angeles Arrested on Indictment Alleging $11.5 Million Bank and Wire Fraud
LOS ANGELES – The former chairman of the board for the Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist, of Los Angeles was arrested today on a federal grand jury indictment charging him with fraud for stealing more than $11 million in church money and using it to purchase a home, a membership at Disneyland’s exclusive dining club, and other personal expenses.
Charles Thomas Sebesta, 54, of Huntington Beach, is expected to make his initial court appearance this afternoon in United States District Court in Los Angeles. Sebesta has been charged with six counts of wire fraud, five counts of bank fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft.
According to the indictment unsealed today, Sebesta was hired in 2001 as the church’s facilities manager and ultimately joined the church in 2005 and served as its local chairman. In this capacity, he had control over the church’s financial assets and operations, including at least five of its bank accounts, the indictment states.
From at least August 2006 through December 2016, Sebesta allegedly caused the church to make checks and other payments to fictitious companies for which he had opened bank accounts, as well as to accounts in his own name and in the names of his family members. To further conceal these payments, Sebesta allegedly forged a church member’s signature on numerous checks drawn against the church’s bank accounts.
In the fall of 2008, Sebesta oversaw the sale of church property in Hollywood for approximately $12.8 million, and he siphoned a significant majority of the proceeds for his personal use, including purchasing a home with $2,019,000 in cashier’s checks drawn from church bank accounts, the indictment alleges. Sebesta falsely recorded his thefts in church records as “donations,” as well as environmental remediation and other payments to fictitious companies which Sebesta named so that they appeared legitimate, the indictment states.
In June 2010, Sebesta allegedly used stolen church funds to purchase a membership at Club 33, Disneyland’s exclusive dining club, where he hosted high-profile entertainment companies, including professional sports teams, and their employees.
In 2009 and 2010, Sebesta allegedly wired $1.86 million and $309,622 in church money toward his own personal tax accounts in order to generate overpayment refunds to himself from the U.S. Treasury and the California Franchise Tax Board, respectively.
Among other concealments and deceptions, the indictment also alleges that Sebesta deceived fellow church members and others by creating fictitious email accounts, including in the name of a prominent real estate executive, whom Sebesta impersonated to further his scheme.
In total, Sebesta stole at least $11,438,213 of church assets and also stole $34,032 from a private high school that also employed him, according to the indictment.
If convicted of all charges, Sebesta would face a statutory maximum sentence of more than 250 years in federal prison.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
This matter was investigated by the United States Secret Service.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Adam P. Schleifer of the Major Frauds Section.