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FLORIDA: Baptist Pastor Accused of Stealing $110,000 From Church

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Pastor Joe S. Hardie of New Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church was arrested for stealing more than $110,000 from the churchLAKELAND | The former pastor of New Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church was arrested Thursday on charges of stealing more than $110,000 from the Lakeland church.

Joe S. Hardie, 67, is accused of scheme to defraud, grand theft and three counts of money laundering, according to an ­investigation by the State Attorney's Office.

If convicted as charged, he faces a maximum of 50 years in prison. He remained in jail Thursday afternoon on $41,000 bail.

Hardie served as pastor of the church on North Webster Avenue from October 1995 to April 2010, according to the church's website.

Kendrix J. Gardner Sr., who took over the position after Hardie's departure, said in a brief telephone interview that the church of more than 500 members is trying to move forward, and he didn't want to comment further.

"The church never really wanted to harm Pastor Hardie in any kind of legal way," Gardner said. "But the church is committed to obeying the laws of the land."

Gardner later released a written statement to The Ledger saying the church "harbors no feelings of resentment" toward Hardie, but the decision to prosecute him is out of the church's hands.

"The Bible encourages the church to practice forgiveness, and we have pardoned him," Gardner wrote.

The criminal investigation began after church officials made a complaint to Lakeland police who referred the case to the State Attorney's Office for an investigation, according to Chip Thullbery, a spokesman with the State Attorney's Office in Bartow.

David W. Lyon, an investigator with the agency, wrote in an affidavit that Hardie took money from the church for his personal use throughout 2007 and 2008 as well as a couple of months in 2009 before church officials discovered his scheme.

Lyon concluded Hardie took $110,823 from the church, and spent some of the money to pay utility bills and the company that cleaned his home.

Hardie would tap into a "benevolent account" intended to help members of the church pay for small bills, hospital stays and flowers, Lyon wrote.

He wrote checks to himself, used a debit card to make cash withdrawals and paid personal expenses with the benevolent account, Lyon wrote.

Hardie also funneled money to the benevolent account from the church's mortgage account as well as money generated by the church from rental space, the report states.

Lyon conducted a recorded statement with Hardie on Nov. 22.

"Hardie stated that the church owed him money and that is why he was taking the money from the accounts," Lyon wrote. "He admitted that he took more money than he felt he was owed by the church. He stated that he just wanted to get this behind him."

[ Jason Geary can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 863-802-7536. ]