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Ex-pastor to serve three years in prison

Otis Ray Hope, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Warrenton, has been sentenced to more than three years in prison after pleading guilty to income tax evasion and subscribing to a false document.

Mr. Hope, 53, stood before U.S. District Judge William M. Nickerson as a sentence of 37 months was handed down in Baltimore on Aug. 4. Judge Nickerson also sentenced Mr. Hope to three years of supervised probation and ordered that he pay restitution of $2,422,320, according to The Herald-Mail .

Mr. Hope served as pastor at the church in Warrenton for less than a year, having come there from Montrose Baptist Church in Rockville, Md. He resigned his position in Warrenton after deacons and other church members discovered that he had been indicted by a federal grand jury.

News stories began surfacing about the new pastor's life in Maryland. Charges against Mr. Hope stemmed from his having filed federal tax exemption status for Shiloh Ministries Inc. of Hagerstown, Md., and conspiracy to commit bank fraud related to a $1.75 million loan which Mr. Hope obtained on behalf of Shiloh Ministries, according to U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein.

In a news release, Mr. Rosenstein said "Otis Ray Hope created false statements to defraud a bank into approving a $1.75 million loan, diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars of tuition revenue to pay his own personal expenses and cheated on his taxes."

Mr. Hope was hired in 1996 as senior pastor at Montrose and supervised the parish program that taught English to foreign students. He advised the church council in 2001 that the program could become more lucrative if it was expanded and operated as a separate corporate entity. The council took no action on the idea. Mr. Hope formed his own company, Maryland International Student Association, which took over the ESL program. Mr. Rosenstein said MISA never filed a federal or state tax return. When the new management took over, tuition rose from approximately $7,400 to $12,500.

The federal prosecutor said about $1.35 million in tuition from foreign students went into MISA bank accounts. He explained that other than the salary of the ESL employee who oversaw the program and incidental expenses, "little of the wired funds were used to pay the expenses of the foreign students or the ESL program."

Mr. Hope, he added, "diverted much of the tuition payments from the ESL program, spending the money on personal expenses for himself and members of his family."

Montrose Baptist Church Council members confronted Mr. Hope at meetings held in September 2002. He admitted his conduct and resigned.

Web posted on Thursday, August 13, 2009

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