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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of Arkansas

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Former Part-Time Associate Pastor to Serve Nine Years in Federal Prison for Defrauding Investors

            Fort Smith, Arkansas – Kenneth Elser, United States Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas, announced that Thomas Edward James, age 34, of Phoenix, Arizona, formerly of Fort Smith, was sentenced to 108 months imprisonment and three years of supervised release on one count of Mail Fraud and 36 months imprisonment and one year of supervised release on one count of Making a False Tax Return; the sentences are to run concurrently with each other.  He was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $524,203.46.  The Honorable Chief Judge P.K. Holmes, III, presided over the sentencing hearing in the United States District Court in Fort Smith.

            According to facts set forth in the plea agreement, the defendant, Thomas Edward James, was a part-time associate pastor at St. James Missionary Baptist Church in Fort Smith, Arkansas who fraudulently induced his victims, a majority of whom were retired and members of the St. James Missionary Baptist Church, to invest their funds in what he falsely represented to be U.S. Treasury Bonds with a rate of return of in excess of 20 percent when in fact James did not invest the funds but converted them to his personal use. James also admitted as part of his plea agreement that he filed false tax returns from 2008-2012, and that he owed the United States additional taxes in the amount of $205,566.46. James pleaded guilty to an Information that was filed on September 10, 2015.

            “James used his position as a pastor, a position of trust, to prey on investors and steal their hard earned money,” stated Tracey D. Montaño, Special Agent in Charge, IRS-Criminal Investigation.  “This case should be a reminder, no matter the source of income, all income is taxable.  The prosecution of individuals who intentionally conceal income and evade taxes is a vital element of the IRS' enforcement strategy.  We are proud to work with our other law enforcement partners to bring this case to a successful resolution.”

            “Today, justice was served as James was sentenced for his despicable participation in defrauding his trusting church members and falsifying his tax returns,” said Assistant Special Agent in Charge David Shepard of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Little Rock. “We appreciate the efforts of the United States Attorney’s Office, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Fort Smith and Fayetteville Police Departments.”

            This case was investigated by The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Financial Crimes Task Force officers from the Fort Smith and Fayetteville Police Departments.  Assistant United States Attorney Mark Webb prosecuted the case for the United States.

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 Related court documents may be found on the Public Access to Electronic Records website @

Financial Fraud
Updated April 13, 2016