Jailed pastor denied appeal

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Cape Town - The Bellville Specialised Commercial Crime Court has denied a jailed former pastor from Cape Town leave to appeal a four-year prison sentence imposed on him for embezzling money from two of his elderly congregants.

Magistrate Sabrina Sonnenberg found that the sentence was lenient, compared to the prescribed minimum of 15 years, and was “by no means harsh and inducing a sense of shock” as Craig Vernon, Freeman's counsel, had contended.

On Monday, Sonnenberg sentenced Freeman, a former pastor at the New Apostolic Church in Durbanville, Cape Town, to eight years' imprisonment, four years of which was suspended for five years on condition he repay the money within five years of his release from prison.

On Friday, Sonnenberg said Freeman had faced a minimum prison sentence of 15 years for fraud involving more than R500,000, but that she had found compelling and substantial circumstances which justified a lesser sentence.

Defence attorney William Booth told the court he would now petition the Western Cape judge president for leave to appeal.

Sonnenberg also refused an application for Freeman's release on bail pending the outcome of the petition.

Freeman had pleaded guilty to falsely informing two members of his congregation that he was engaged in a development of the farm Rhebokskloof, near Paarl.

By offering them returns of between 28 and 38 percent, he duped them into investing in the non-existent development.

Richard Williams-Sims invested R3,350,000, and Deon Scritten R200 000, between July 2006 and January 2007.

Neither received the promised returns, or their money back.

Sonnenberg agreed with prosecutor Jannie Knipe that there was no reasonable prospect of success of either the appeal against sentence or the petition.

She said a clinical psychologist, who also had a law diploma, had recommended a wholly suspended prison sentence, to enable Freeman to earn a living and repay his victims.

However, she said the psychologist had considered only Freeman's circumstances, and not all the other aspects of sentencing, as she had done.

She said the four years imposed was reasonable and competent, and was not a misdirection.

She said Freeman had earned a monthly salary of R50,000, and had owned a villa in Durbanville.

He also drove a luxury vehicle, all of which indicated that he was able to repay the victims within a reasonable period.

She said Freeman, as a church pastor, had been his victims' spiritual leader.

He was also their financial adviser and had admitted that the embezzlement had been for personal gain.

The reason for the embezzlement was that he had been envious of his financial business partners, and had wanted to be like them, she said.

“That is morally disgusting,” said Sonnenberg.


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