Church Pastor Going To Jail For Stealing Money From Disabled Woman

Published: Oct. 16, 2002 at 6:12 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND - A judge called it the worst kind of theft, and now a local church pastor is going to prison for stealing a huge amount of money from a disabled parishioner.

Tom Meyer, The Investigator, was the first reporter to break the story, and now he provides an update that you could have only seen on Action News.

Pastor Merita White (pictured in her Sunday's best, above) was in a jailhouse uniform and handcuffed in a courtroom as five witnesses, including her son, told Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold that White was a good, religious person.

"I thought she paid her debt a long time ago," White's son, Jason, said.

They said that as pastor of Grace Apostolic Church she devoted her life to serving the Lord and others.

White, who was already a convicted felon and probation violator, was waiting to see if Saffold would send her to prison.

She was convicted of stealing $150,000 from Mattie Cunningham. Prosecutors and Cunningham's attorney, Martin Sandal, blasted White for crying in court, saying her tears were not tears of remorse.

"They're tears of regret," Sandal said. "Regret that she got caught. Regret that she's shackled in prison garb."

Prosecutors said that the pastor preyed on Cunningham at a time when she was especially vulnerable. She had just lost most of her arms and legs to medical negligence.

"She knows taking Mattie's money would mean she would go broke, and she did," Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Dan Kasaris said. "She was forced to send her son to Alabama for relatives to care for him."

Prosecutors, the judge and Sandal called it the worst type of theft -- stealing from a disabled, emotionally distraught woman.

"She gained the trust of Mattie Cunningham and manipulated her like a wolf in sheep's clothing," Kasaris said.

Saffold agreed, said that the pastor showed no remorse and sentenced her to seven years in prison.

White, who's been in trouble several times for check fraud and grand theft, is appealing.