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One of Harlem‘s most prominent churches, Abyssinian Baptist Church, has found itself in some controversy due to the alleged actions of a deacon.

Deacon Jerome Yeiser has been accused of defrauding church members, according to a recently filed legal complaint. The defrauding centers around “actions of targeting and convincing unsuspecting parishioners of the Abyssinian Baptist Church to employ him (as) a general home improvement contractor so that he can abscond with their money.”

Yeiser allegedly absconded more than $200,000 from several active church members, in alleged acts of fraud that date back to at least six years ago. He reportedly used the money for his daughter’s law school tuition, a personal trip, and an IRS tax lien.

Abyssinian church members John and Cheryl Graves, and Tommie and Mara Porter filed separate claims this month aimed at Yeiser, detailing nearly identical allegations. In both situations, the court fillings say that Yeiser fraudulently claimed to be a licensed contractor and he used his status at the church to procure renovation bids from the couples. Both couples say that Yeiser then stopped paying subcontractors for the work and took significant amounts of money for himself.

In the Graves’ filing, they say Yeiser told them that he’d used the funds to pay for a church trip, and for his daughter’s school tuition. In the Porter’s filing, they say Yeiser told them that he’d used the funds to pay for an IRS tax lien. Such actions showcase a pattern of affinity fraud, in which a person preys on members of a religious organization, ethnic community or professional group to exploit their trust and friendship.

When the Graves brought their alleged incidents to Rev. Butts of Abyssinian in 2014, they were shocked to discover that they weren’t the only family to come forward. When the Porters reported their situation to Rev. Butts in 2019, he told them that they were the third family to speak up, later admitting that they were actually the fifth.

Yeiser is now temporarily suspended from his duties pending an investigation, however, he hasn’t been permanently removed from his role more than a year after the most recent allegation was made public.

Public records show that Jerome and Avis Yeiser have a history of extensive lawsuits and prosecutions, reflecting a consistent pattern of extreme financial malfeasance. The cases include more than $170,000 in civil judgements, $90,000 in unpaid tax liens, one home foreclosure, three bankruptcy filings, and prosecution on more than a dozen federal criminal charges, causing the couple to plead guilty.


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