On Tuesday, October 18, 2022, Senior Pastor Charles Southall III, 64, of First Emanuel Baptist Church in Louisiana, pleaded guilty in a New Orleans federal court to a single count of money laundering. He was charged last month after an FBI investigation determined he obtained $889,565.86 through fraudulent schemes. Southall, who has served as a minister for more than 30 years, was accused of defrauding the church, the church’s housing ministry, a charter school, and individual donors. The church has locations in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
Southall was installed as the pastor of First Emanuel Baptist Church in 1989 and lived in Baton Rouge ever since he moved there from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. A graduate of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS), Southall was also a real estate investor.
Prosecutors allege over the course of years, Southall abused his position as a pastor by soliciting and stealing donations from his church members. It was reported in one instance, he manipulated and got $10,000 from a member of the church and used funds for his personal use. In another instance, Southall was accused of stealing $106,408 donated over the course of four years by a congregant stole for charity work and capital improvements to the church’s facility.
Southall was also accused of taking roughly $150,000 in rental payments from rental properties attached to the church’s housing ministry in addition to stealing more than $500,000 during the sales of certain properties.
Also, while Southall was the board president of Spirit of Excellence Academy, a charter school in New Orleans that he helped found, he secured funding to build a sister academy in Baton Rouge. According to investigations, the new school never opened though Southall hired an employee for the new location and from 2013 – 2017, diverted more than $221,000 of that person’s pay to an account owned jointly by himself and the employee.
In a statement, the office of U.S. Attorney Duane Evans said that as part of his guilty plea, Southall agreed to pay restitution to his churches, to the Spirit of Excellence Academy and to two individual congregants whose tithes and other donations he diverted for his personal expenses.
Southall will be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey next Jan. 17 and faces up to 10 years in federal prison.
Sidney Cole writes about news happenings around the world.