(RNS) — A former Houston megachurch pastor who once was an adviser to presidents has been sentenced to six years in federal prison for his part in a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme.
“They trusted me with their money, and I abused that trust,” Kirbyjon Caldwell, former pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church, an 18,000-member congregation, said at his sentencing, according to the Houston Chronicle. “I misled them, I profited at their expense, and for that, I am very sorry.”
Caldwell became pastor of Windsor Village in the 1980s when it was a small congregation with two dozen families, according to the United Methodist News Service. The church would later become the largest United Methodist church in the country.
In 2018, he and Louisiana financial adviser Gregory Alan Smith were indicted by federal officials after selling $3.5 million in bonds issued by the Republic of China before the Communist takeover in 1949, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Louisiana. The bonds have no value.
“These defendants used their positions as religious leaders and investment advisors to defraud Louisiana residents — many of whom are elderly and retired,” said U.S. Attorney David C. Joseph. “In doing so, the defendants abused the trust and respect of their victims for the sole purpose of stealing their money. ”
The prison sentence is a remarkable end to Caldwell’s ministerial career. At its height, he was a frequent visitor to the White House during the George W. Bush administration and performed the wedding of Jenna Bush.
“From time to time the president, he shares some stuff with me,” he told members of the Religion News Association in 2004. “I’m not going to tell a soul. I don’t even talk about what he says I can talk about.”
Caldwell would later be described as “Obama’s other pastor” after he endorsed Barack Obama’s run for president.
The pastor was also known as the “Minister of Good Success” for his mix of theology with business success, advocating “holistic salvation,” including spiritual, emotional and financial well-being and “achieving success without violating God’s law.”
“We are very much risk-takers; we are innovative; we are entrepreneurial,” Caldwell told Christianity Today magazine in 2001. “But guess what? Jesus was innovative and entrepreneurial, as was John Wesley. So, unlike some pastors, I don’t view that as a scriptural stretch or as an anti-spiritual orientation. I think some churches obviously feel that their activities should be restricted to Sundays, and that economic development should be left to another sector. I don’t buy that.”
United Methodist Bishop Scott Jones of the Texas Conference said in a statement that Caldwell has shown remorse and taken “extraordinary steps to repair the damage caused by his behavior.”
“We continue to pray for healing for all affected by Mr. Caldwell’s actions, including his family and the Windsor Village United Methodist Church, as well as Mr. Caldwell,” the bishop said in the statement.
The 67-year-old Caldwell’s attorney asked for him to be sentenced to home confinement, saying he is at high risk for COVID-19 because of his prostate cancer and hypertension. The judge deferred his report date to prison until June.