I-Team investigates San Jose church sale: Where's the money going?

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- "I still love the guy, I'd like to break his legs" Pastor Leonard Myers chuckles. "God forgive me for that."

Why is this pastor angry about the man he chose to succeed him at a San Jose Church?

The ABC7 I-Team has been investigating the proposed sale of that church for months. No question, Hope Tabernacle Pentecostal Church has seen better days -- its once-large congregation has dwindled. But current and former members are very concerned about the new pastor's plans to sell the church.

Leonard Myers spent his life building Hope Tabernacle in South San Jose. At its height, the church had a congregation of 300 people with a mission to serve.

"It's been a lighthouse to that community," Pastor Myers told Dan Noyes. "We fed the hungry, we've had a clothing ministry, did drug counseling and interdiction."

And when Mr. Myers decided to retire after 40 years as pastor, he chose a member of the congregation to succeed him -- a construction worker with no experience at the pulpit, Remington Meck, who has now decided to sell the church. Pastor Myers is disappointed.

"Yeah, extremely disappointed," said Myers. "I think it's wrong to try to sell something that doesn't belong to you."

By phone, Remington Meck confirmed the sale to an I-Team researcher -- listing price, almost $1.3 million -- saying he'll take the proceeds to Arizona and start a new church, but that "When this goes through, I fully expect a visit from the FBI because everyone is so emotional on this."

He declined an on-camera interview, so Dan Noyes went to his home and spoke with a young woman identifying herself as Meck's daughter. She said, "You can get a hold of Remington and talk to him about everything, but everything is legal."

We reached Meck on his cell phone just minutes later.

"What plans do you have for the money?" Dan Noyes asked. "He hung up."

Pastor Myer's daughter and son-in-law are fighting to stop the sale, filing complaints with the Santa Clara County DA's Office and State Attorney General.

"We were shocked and surprised," said Fawn Myers. "How do you sell a church?"

They took Dan Noyes through the church where they met and married.

Mario Bañuelos: "We are really heartbroken for this decision."

Fawn Myers: "I understand he may have his own vision, but I don't understand why is he taking the funds from this building which really belongs to this community."

Dan Noyes: "Do you doubt his intentions?"

Fawn Myers: "I would like to trust, but I don't."

And we've heard concern from other congregation members, who were expected to tithe or give 10-percent of their salary to the church.

Several members tell Dan Noyes off-camera they don't expect to get any of the money back, but they say if Pastor Meck does not use that $1.3 million properly, he'll have to face the wrath of God.

He could also face questions from investigators, says former IRS special agent Alexander Seddio: "If there's an intent to convert those funds to his personal use, that's a problem."

Seddio tells us he would look at how Meck got church members to agree to the sale: "Was there some sort of remuneration paid to some of these other individuals to influence their vote? So, that sort of a corrupt practice I would look for."

To check out that issue, the I-Team went back to the church on a Sunday. Remington Meck warned us by text not to step on church property again, and we found new "no trespassing" signs posted.

Ed Madeiros identified himself as a Hope Tabernacle trustee, and said just three votes were needed to approve the sale -- his, Pastor Meck's, and Meck's wife.

Dan Noyes: "It's you who actually did this, it's the pastor and his wife and you?"

Ed Madeiros: "That's it."

You can see their signatures on this Real Estate Sales Signing Resolution, an exhibit in the complaint filed with the Attorney General's Office.

By text, Madeiros also discussed something else from the AG's complaint -- that Meck offered him 50-thousand dollars and the pastor "basically said it would be a gift when the church sold." After he voted for the sale, Madeiros told us Meck "found that it was illegal to give anybody money from the sale of the church."

With the controversy building, Madeiros has withdrawn his support of the sale.

Dan Noyes finally met Remington Meck face to face: "Pastor, I need to talk to you about the sale of the church. Will you talk to me, please."

Dan Noyes: "I need to talk to you about what you plan on doing with the money."

Remington Meck: "It's following corporate law."

Dan Noyes: "Following corporate law. How about church law? How about what's right?"

So many people want a full explanation of what Meck plans, including the pastor who put him in a position of power.

"And that's how I've tried to live my life openly before God and man," said Pastor Myers. "And he's going to have some things to answer for at the judgment seat."

Officials at the Pentecostal Church of God have offered to assign a new pastor to bring Hope Tabernacle back. But, the sale is now listed as pending, and the buyer appears to be another church. We'll keep track of how this goes and what Pastor Meck does with the money, once he reaches Arizona.

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