By John Guerra

 

Rev. John W. McKenzie, the former pastor accused of stealing more than $54,000 from of St. James Missionary Baptist Church in Bahama Village, told investigators he transferred money into an account he could access because collections during services were down.

 

This and other details are included in discovery documents the Monroe County State Attorney’s Office gave to KonkLife last week.

 

According to bank records, McKenzie transferred $40,000 from the church’s equity account to the general fund on Jan. 22, 2013, and transferred another $5,000 on March 17. The general fund pays for church operations such as salaries and utility bills.

 

“McKenzie said he made the transfer because the monthly collections had recently been significantly reduced and funds were needed to run the church,” investigator Chris Weber wrote in the charging document.

 

Merrell Sands, McKenzie’s defense attorney, was to contact KonkLife this week if McKenzie agreed to an interview with the newspaper. Sands met with his client but has not contacted KonkLife.

 

 

Prosecutors are looking into whether McKenzie may have used church money for a farm owned by his family. According Florida’s Division of Corporations, McKenzie is president and chairman of McKenzie Brothers Farms Inc., which was incorporated on July 31, 2012. The company’s address is 2007 Staples Ave., Key West.

 

 

Articles of Incorporation list other members of his family as officers: Willie J. McKenzie is listed as director; Alonzo McKenzie is vice president; and Alfred A.; James A.; and Danny L. McKenzie are officers without title.

 

A source familiar with the case said John W. McKenzie may have used the money from the church to make mortgage payments on a produce farm.

 

According to prosecution documents, McKenzie’s alleged theft began in July 2011 after a financial secretary for St. James resigned her post. Being unable to perform her duties, she handed the church’s checkbook and financial records over to McKenzie for safekeeping. McKenzie then hired Jacqueline Williams as financial secretary. Williams refused to cooperate with investigators. “There are no statements from her, either recorded or written,” assistant prosecutor Mark Kohl wrote KonkLife in an email last week.

 

Investigators believe McKenzie either received or gave himself pay advances–some as much as $10,000–the same month he hired Williams to be financial secretary. By the time a church trustee complained to prosecutors in June 2013 that McKenzie was “emptying the bank account,” the pastor and Williams had written checks totaling $121,857, which exceeded the pastor’s pay by $54,657, investigators said. McKenzie was paid $700 a week.

 

He was subsequently arrested and charged with theft. He was released pending trial and has pleaded not guilty. He goes on trial Jan. 13.

 

Bank records show large advances from the church’s accounts to McKenzie in rapid succession.

 

In March 2013 alone, McKenzie received a $1,400 advance on March 4; an $800 advance on March 12; and two advances of $3,500 each on March 17 and March 29.

 

McKenzie and Williams’ requests for money also raised the suspicions of St. James Trustee William Mitchell. According to investigators, McKenzie and Williams asked Mitchell to sign blank checks instead of reviewing the bills and then signing checks.

 

An odd footnote also can be found in the bank records. St. James Missionary paid Greater Friendship Baptist Church in Daytona Beach $111 in October 2011. McKenzie was pastor at Greater Friendship from March 1995 until April 2003. According to a Daytona Times article about McKenzie’s Key West arrest, “similar [theft] allegations were made against McKenzie while at Greater Friendship, but no charges were ever pressed against him.”

 

McKenzie faces at least 15 years in prison if convicted.