Facing Trial and Bankruptcy of District, Saint Augustine's Trustee Suspended By Board of AME Zion Bishops

Staccato Powell, a high-ranking bishop within the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and member of the Saint Augstine’s University Board of Trustees, was suspended earlier this month and faces a trial within the church’s conference this summer on charges of fraud and maladministration.

In a letter from the church’s Board of Bishops, Powell was accused of demanding that pastors with the Western Episcopal District transfer deeds to name the district as a title holder.

From the letter:

In most cases, this action was taken without the proper and required votes of local church Trustees, Quarterly Conferences, and/or Membership Meetings. The Board of Bishops received information that local congregations were not made aware of the transfer of deeds or the mortgaging of their church properties until notifications of pending foreclosures were received.

During the Board of Bishops Meeting in February 2018, and at a subsequent meeting with the President of the Board of Bishops, as documented in a letter to Bishop Powell dated August 7, 2018, he was directed to cease the practice of having deeds altered, mortgaging local church properties, to relieve the debt that was improperly placed upon the churches, and to immediately begin the process of restoring deeds to language consistent with the Book of Discipline… After receiving additional reports and complaints of continued violations, the Board of Bishops on July 22, 2020, appointed a legal affairs committee and an audit committee to investigate the extent of legal and financial liabilities.

Powell was named as president of the Board of Bishops in April 2020, and had served as presiding prelate of the Western District since 2016 until his suspension in August of last year.

A month before his suspension, the Western District filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. According to the Board, Powell is accused of continuing the effort to transfer titles and to sell churches in the effort to resolve the bankruptcy issue.

Subsequently, evidence has been presented to the Board of Bishops that Staccato Powell has continued unauthorized activities and communications in an attempt to obstruct efforts to both investigate and bring resolution to these matters. His representatives in court have taken positions in opposition to the position of the AME Zion Church’s best interests, including asserting to the court that the corporation he established has the right to sell churches within the Western Episcopal District.

During the ongoing investigation and pending court actions, we must be prudent in sharing details of the significant scope of the violations committed by Staccato Powell; however, the following items are noteworthy:

1. Not only did Bishop Powell fail to uphold his vow to safeguard and adhere to the law of The AME Zion Church with regard to the sale, mortgaging, or transfer of church property; he actively engaged in acts of intimidation, manipulation, and deception in order to illegally have local church deeds altered and property transferred to a shell corporation, avoiding accountability.

2. Proceeds from mortgages obtained upon AME Zion Churches exceeded $14 million dollars of which the accounting for more than $8 million remains unreported. These transactions have the potential to place enormous debt upon our denomination.

3. Through his representatives, Bishop Powell has represented to the bankruptcy court that he has both the willingness and the right to sell church property obtained by his fraudulent actions to settle the outstanding debt of the Western Episcopal District, Inc.

In an interview with Religion News Service, Powell says that the suspension violates religious and legal standards of due process.

“How the narrative continues to be presented is antithetical to both due process and more importantly, the holy writ in regards to how matters of this nature ought (to) be dealt with among those who are followers of Christ,” he said.

“The underlying libelous, slanderous and ambiguous document is based on inaccurate, and incomplete information as well as innuendos which have lead to faulty interpretations, unsubstantiated claims, and false assumptions giving rise to implications of malicious intent,” he continued.