And that, according to Szuchman, of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, is at the center of this case.
Investigators say Randolph Christian Church pastor Eric Simons, his assistant pastor wife Marianne and assistant pastor Phillip Duplessis gained control of the church finances, sold the church building and used the money to buy a $1.6 million home in Mendham and a 78-foot schooner docked in Jersey City.
"It's one of the more serious cases that's been brought in to the Division of Consumer Affairs," Szuchman said.
"We attempted to confront him before we even went to the attorney general's office," former church member Maria Palumbo said. "He wouldn't meet with us."
Palumbo complained to the state, triggering the probe.
She and other ex-congregants applauded as investigators stood outside the Mendham mansion Wednesdasy and announced that the pastors have agreed to pay back the money they took and resign from the church board.
Simons attorney Bob Margulies says the pastors invested the money for the benefit of the church and the home was used for youth gatherings and other activities.
"Personally, I don't begrudge them," Palumbo said. "I'm not bitter. I just want the money returned. It was never intended for this. Clearly it was fraudulent."
The Simons will eventually have to move out of the big house, which will be sold, along with the Liberty schooner. The money will go back to the church, where a state-appointed fiscal monitor is now in charge of finances.
Consumer affairs says the results of its investigation will be turned over to either the Morris County prosecutor or the state attorney general for possible criminal charges.
WEB PRODUCED BY: Bill King
NEW YORK AND TRI-STATE AREA NEWS