LITTLE ROCK — An associate pastor of a Fort Smith church has agreed to pay back money that he received from a church member to invest but allegedly pocketed and used for himself.
At a hearing Wednesday in Pulaski County Circuit Court, an attorney for Thomas James of Fayetteville, associate pastor at St. James Missionary Baptist Church in Fort Smith, said James will pay $66,500 to church member Renee Lee.
James did not attend the hearing. His lawyer, Peter Kumpe, and Securities Department attorney Campbell McLaurin appeared before Judge Alice Gray and said the parties had agreed to a settlement.
In addition to returning the money, James is required under the settlement to present an accounting to the judge of all money he received for investment purposes and what he did with the money.
In a civil complaint filed last week, the Arkansas Securities Department accused James of taking money from Lee to invest in securities but instead depositing it into an account that he drew on for shopping sprees for jewelry, clothes and electronics and trips to various cities across the country, as well as a ocean cruise.
The Securities Department also said in the complaint that James presented himself as a certified financial planner, certified investment management analyst and chartered retirement planning counselor, although no evidence could be found that he holds any of those designations.
James is a former registered broker-dealer for Merrill Lynch, but his registration has expired, McLaurin said.
Gray issued a temporary restraining order last week freezing James’ assets. The parties agreed Wednesday to allow the restraining order to remain in effect until the judge sees fit to lift it.
The settlement does not preclude further action if it is found that James took money from other investors.
"We anticipate that there will be additional investors," McLaurin said.
He also said the case could result in criminal charges, though that decision ultimately will be up to the local prosecutor.
Gray ordered Wednesday that James not travel more than 200 miles from his residence and that he not leave the state without her permission while the restraining order is in effect.
James did not immediately return a call seeking comment Wednesday.