Updated: November 04, 2019 09:19 PM
The senior pastor of a church in Woodbury solicited secret loans from members of his congregation and left a trail of unpaid debts, according to documents, text messages, and court records reviewed by 5 INVESTIGATES.
Kelly Webb, Sr., a former radio personality and government contractor, says he's done nothing wrong and has paid back some of the money he owed since being contacted by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS. However, nonprofit experts question whether Webb abused his authority as a pastor by seeking private loans from members of his church.
'I felt like I was being tested by God'
Jennifer Flaherty says she was a new member at Deliverance Temple Church of God in Christ in Woodbury when Webb first approached her for money in December 2018.
"[He] told me the church was in need of $3,000 and that if he didn't get that $3,000 that day, we were going to lose the church," Flaherty said.
She gave Webb the money, but also asked her pastor to sign a paper, promising to pay back the money in about two months. On the signed document, Flaherty wrote: "you advised me to keep this quiet" and that the private loan was to "pay some church finances."
Yet when that secret loan came due in February 2019, Flaherty did not get her money back. The same document contained a signed amendment indicating she gave Webb an additional $4,100 and four more months to pay her back.
"As before, I will grant your wishes of telling nobody," Flaherty wrote on the document, which she and Webb signed a second time.
"I don't know how to explain what was going through my head," Flaherty said. "I felt like I was being tested by God."
Flaherty shared text messages with 5 INVESTIGATES, showing that she repeatedly asked Webb when he'd pay her back over the summer, but she kept waiting.
After 5 INVESTIGATES started asking Webb about his financial dealings in September, he says he's made six attempts to pay back the loans. Still, Flaherty says she is refusing to accept the offer unless Webb pays her in cash.
Flaherty is not the only former church member who loaned money to Pastor Webb.
Deedra West says she let Webb borrow her credit card in 2016 on the condition that he would quickly repay her.
"He was like, 'Can you please just loan the money to me for two weeks?'" West said.
A credit card statement shows Webb racked up a charge of more than $7,600, but West says she didn't initially question her decision to offer financial help.
"Never. Never because I'm like, 'This is my pastor. I trust him,'" West said.
When she did not get her money back, text messages show West sought assistance from Bishop Fred Washington with the Church of God in Christ in Minneapolis, who oversees Webb's church and others. Washington has not responded to questions about what action he took regarding Pastor Webb.
Webb finally paid West, in full, just days after being contacted by 5 INVESTIGATES in September.
Webb & Associates
Both Flaherty and West say their pastor told them he would pay them back with money from his consulting business, Webb & Associates, which offered diversity training to local government and law enforcement agencies.
"He said, 'Oh yeah, I got a big check coming in the mail," West said.
5 INVESTIGATES found record of a few small contracts with public agencies across the metro area worth about $25,000.
Flaherty and West say they were reluctant to report their financial disputes with Webb to authorities because his now-former business partner at Webb & Associates was Woodbury Chief of Police Lee Vague.
"It makes it a conflict of interest for me to report it to the police, you know?" Flaherty said.
"Because (if) you go to the Woodbury Police, that's his business partner," West added.
The women have not accused Chief Vague of anything. He e-mailed the following statement to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS in September:
As a local pastor, Kelly Webb has been a valuable resource, forming community relationships and acting as a liaison during critical incidents. Through this association, Reverend Webb and I facilitated implicit bias training at six public safety agencies over the past four years. Any financial issues involving Reverend Webb, his church, and his church members were independent of our work and without my knowledge. I have encouraged Reverend Webb to seek a timely resolution in these matters and we have ended our business partnership.
'Whose funds are whose?'
5 INVESTIGATES asked two attorneys who advise nonprofits, including churches, to separately review the information surrounding Webb's secret loans and his assurances he'd pay them back with money from government contracts.
"It's a terrible practice because it starts looking like whose funds are whose?" attorney Emmett Robertson said.
Both Robertson and attorney Kimberly Lowe called Webb's financial dealings unusual and pointed out that the church's board of directors has the responsibility to oversee its pastor.
"In the plain light of day with transparency, this would never happen," Lowe said. "I would ask, is there a paper trail that shows how that money went from this individual to the church? Is there any documentation?"
So far, Webb has not provided that information, and the law does not require him to do so.
'Cracks in the story'
Court records going back more than a decade reveal a history of financial trouble for Webb and his church.
Former landlords say they also cut financial ties with Webb, evicting him after they say he initially won their trust.
"He tells me he's a pastor? And it was like, 'This is perfect,'" said Brian Morgan, who rented his St. Paul home to Webb in 2007.
Records show Morgan took Webb to court after months of unpaid rent and a damage deposit check for $3,800 had bounced. The bad check was written from the Deliverance Temple Resource Committee.
"We believed his story until there were too many cracks in the story to believe it anymore," Morgan said.
Another former landlord, Dan Selner, says Webb still owes him more than $20,000 after failing to pay rent on a home in Eagan.
"It was always, 'I've got this work coming on. I'm going to have these government contracts,'" Selner said. "Just promising, stringing me along … and I believed him."
5 INVESTIGATES called and emailed Webb for weeks, requesting an on-camera interview. Webb initially said he and his church board would speak in person and on the record, but canceled just hours before that scheduled meeting.
Webb did allow 5 INVESTIGATES to briefly record a phone call with him in September when first asked about borrowing money from members of his church.
"I tell them, you know, usually 'I'll get you. I'll pay you back.' And I usually do. But it's for the church. It's never for me," Webb said.
When asked why it's taken so long for him to repay people, Webb said, "Because the church debt is so deep."
A day after Webb backed out of the scheduled interview, a woman named Audrea Webb sent an email to 5 INVESTIGATES stating:
"The board of Deliverance Temple Church of God in Christ does not want to take part in exploiting an individual or a family who experienced financial hardship."
Although Kelly Webb has made recent efforts to repay former church members such as Flaherty and West, they and others interviewed by 5 INVESTIGATES say money isn't the only reason they decided to share their stories.
"If nobody stops him, he's going to keep doing what he's doing, and he's going to keep hurting people," Flaherty said.
Webb once hosted a radio show on 1500 AM, which is owned by Hubbard Broadcasting.
Eric Rasmussen can be reached by phone at 651-642-4534 or by email here.
Updated: November 04, 2019 09:19 PM
Published: October 31, 2019 12:00 AM
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