Pennsylvania Woman Charged with Coercing Members of Church Ministry into Forced Labor and Pocketing Their Earnings
CHICAGO — A federal grand jury in Chicago has indicted the self-appointed bishop of a Pennsylvania ministry for allegedly collecting bogus travel-agent fees from hotels where her church members worked as desk clerks.
The bishop, TRACIE DICKEY, instructed the church members on how to have the hotels pay reservation-commission fees to a purported travel agency operated by Dickey, according to the indictment. From 2005 to 2013 the hotels paid approximately $130,000 in commissions to a bank account controlled by Dickey, even though her travel agency didn’t exist and couldn’t have booked the reservations on behalf of hotel guests, the indictment states.
It was further part of the scheme that Dickey emotionally and physically abused members of her faith-based organization, Deliverance Tabernacle Ministries, to coerce them into following its rules and remitting their earnings to Dickey or the church, according to the indictment. Dickey’s tactics included starving and humiliating church members, and threatening that God would harm their family members if they didn’t comply, the indictment states.
During the same eight-year period, Dickey collected $280,000 in wages earned at the hotels by four members of her ministry, according to the indictment. At Dickey’s direction, the wages were directly deposited into Dickey’s personal bank account or one of the ministry accounts controlled by Dickey, the indictment states.
Dickey, also known as “Tracie Williams,” 48, of Pittsburgh, Pa., is charged with three counts of wire fraud and one count of labor trafficking. The indictment seeks $410,000 in illegally derived proceeds.
Dickey has been in federal custody since her arrest in Dallas, Texas, in July. She is scheduled to be arraigned in federal court in Chicago on Sept. 13, 2016, at 1:30 p.m., before U.S. District Judge Sara L. Ellis.
The indictment was announced by Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; and Michael J. Anderson, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Texas provided assistance in the case.
The case was investigated by the Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force, a multi-disciplinary unit that brings together law enforcement and social service agencies to combat human trafficking. More information about the Task Force can be found on its website: http://www.cookcountytaskforce.org/
Each count of the indictment is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. If convicted, the Court must impose a reasonable sentence under federal statutes and the advisory U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.
The public is reminded that an indictment is not evidence of guilt. The defendant is presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Bethany Biesenthal.