A Tennessee pastor and his associate are accused of stealing state grant money to run a “drug recovery program” that served the dearly departed.
Prosecutors allege that Mount Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church pastor Clinton M. Lewis Sr. and associate Andre Trice took more than $60,000 in state grants over four years for a supposed substance abuse and recovery program. An audit of the program, however, found that some of those listed as clients never received counseling, while others turned out to be incarcerated or dead.
Lewis is a father of five and grandfather of two who was ordained more than 20 years ago. He’s been at Mount Hopewell since 2002. According to his pastor’s bio, he’s leading the church through “the first phase of a multi-phase, multi-million dollar building project.”
According to The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), Lewis and Trice started running their fraudulent drug program in 2011—and by 2015, they’d allegedly defrauded the state of $60,000. Some of the drug rehab “clients’ listed by Lewis and Trice told police they’d never received treatment from the organization. Others would have been hard to reach in prison. Still others were dead.
The last publicly available tax form for the Mount Hopewell Community Development Corporation, the entity through which the addiction rehabilitation program was operated, dates from two years ago. (The form was marked as received by the IRS in 2015, despite covering the 2013 calendar year.)
In it, Lewis notes that since 2010, the Mount Hopewell Community Development Corporation has received $61,200 in grants for the drug recovery program. It received $14,400 a year from 2010 to 2012, and $18,000 in 2013.
Of the $18,000 received for the Substance Abuse Recovery Support Services program in 2013, $17,700 went to “professional fees and other payments to independent contractors,” Lewis marked on the form. The remaining $300 went to “other expenses.”
Lewis listed himself as president of the organization, and named a staff of three other individuals: one secretary, and two board members. Lewis said he worked 10 hours a week on the project, while the others worked an hour each. None of them received any compensation, according to the form. Trice is not listed anywhere on tax forms reviewed by The Daily Beast.
But Jasper Brewster, one of two “board members” listed on the tax forms, told The Daily Beast that he didn’t consider himself a board member of the organization, and that he had moved out of town at around the time covered by the tax form.
“I can’t recall making more one or two of the meetings,” he said.
Brewster is no longer involved with the Mount Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church, though he said he’d heard rumors about the criminal charges. He said he didn’t know whether there was any truth to them.
“Nothing was set up back then,” he said, referring to around three years ago. “There was talk of things they wanted to do, but there was no school ... it was all to come.”
Was there a drug recovery program?
“Not that I recall,” Brewster said. “But then again, they could have it in [the] room next door.”
The TBI also found that people named by Lewis as rehab counselors didn’t know the program was still running.
Board members listed on other tax filings declined to comment to The Daily Beast. Attempts to call the church phone number were unsuccessful, and the voice mailbox was full. Numbers listed for Lewis were disconnected.
“Although Pastor Lewis is stunned by the Grand Jury’s decision to indict him on these charges, he is comforted in the fact that he will have an opportunity to clear his name of any and all illegal conduct,” Lewis’s attorney, Jamaal Boykin, told Fox 17 Nashville. “Under the strict advice of counsel, Pastor Lewis will not discuss any facts publicly surrounding this matter, but he would like to unequivocally assert his innocence as assumed at this point by both the State and Federal Constitutions.”
Boykin told The Daily Beast that he did not have further comment. “He is presumed innocent under the laws of our State and Country and really would like that point driven to your audience,” he said.
Both Lewis and Trice are out on bond, a spokesman for the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office told The Daily Beast.
As recently as spring 2014, the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services boasted about the Hopewell rehab in a newsletter highlighting partnerships with faith-based groups.
“The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services is dedicated to supporting qualified providers by funding programs to treat substance abuse issues and reduce illicit drug abuse and dependency among Tennessee citizens,” spokesman Mike Machak told The Daily Beast. “The department is committed to ensuring that public funds be properly used for individuals who are indigent and in need of treatment services for substance abuse.”
On Facebook, friends say they’re not judging the two men, and challenge those without sin to cast the first stone.
“Stop pointing fingers and I’m talking about the incident with Pastor Clinton M. Lewis and Andre Trice we have all done some wrong we just haven’t got caught but keep on living your day is going to come I don’t know about you but I’m praying for the men of God,” Lewis Brown posted. “Let me tell you I can see God working some stuff out right now pastor Lewis and Andre Trice keep your head up put a smile on your face and know that God still have your back.”
Another friend, Michael Bennett, posted about spending time with Trice after he was let out on bond.
“I learned today that regardless of how bad your situation may be, God will and can hide you from all the naysayers and people who are really out for your destruction and allow you to prevail mentally through the situation peacefully with no worries knowing that ‘we win,’” he posted.
“People are so quick to crucify and convict before all the evidence is presented,” Antoine Barbee posted. “My responsibility is to pray and not entertain the issue. I can’t verify whether this is in fact true or not. And quite frankly, I care not to know.”
Trice’s criminal history shows he has a fondness for driving with a suspended license—or without one altogether. But this is the first serious charge for both men.