The pastor of an Oakley church accused by parishioners of questionable financial dealings is the subject of ongoing fraud investigations in Rio Vista and Brentwood, and faces a million-dollar breach of contract suit alleging financial and psychological elder abuse.
Detective Vicki Rister of the Rio Vista Police said her department’s investigation into Jerry Hanoum and Mountain View Christian Center (MVCC) involves two promissory notes Hanoum signed for loans from then-parishioner Donna Quinlan, who was then 68. One loan was contracted in 2005 for $80,000 and offered an unspecified, 40-acre parcel on Balfour Road as collateral. In 2007, a second loan, this time for $150,000, was secured by the 5-acre Hanoum Estate property on Knarlwood Road in Oakley. A for-profit venture, Hanoum Estate includes a 9,000 square-foot mansion and manicured grounds. The estate has been promoted at various times as an event center, a pastoral retreat, and a shelter for victims of child predators.
But according to property records, neither Hanoum nor MVCC has ever owned the Hanoum Estate site, which records show belonged to Aisha Tre Othman of Santa Clara until it was sold into foreclosure two months ago. No records could be found indicating that MVCC owned any real property when the promissory notes were signed. To date, no payments on either loan have been made.
According to California’s Corporate Code, “It is unlawful for any person to offer or sell a security in this state or buy or offer to buy a security in this state by means of any written or oral communication which includes an untrue statement of a material fact or omits to state a material fact necessary in order to make the statements made, in the light of the circumstances under which they were made, not misleading.”
In Brentwood, Police Chief Mark Evenson this week confirmed that Hanoum was also the subject of a fraud investigation there. Since the case is ongoing, Evenson said he could not provide additional details: “I can only confirm that we currently have an open fraud investigation” (involving Hanoum).
Hanoum founded MVCC on Harvest Park Road in Brentwood in 2004. In 2008, the church moved to Oakley and now occupies the Oakley Union School District’s (OUESD) Almond Grove School site on Amaryllis Way, where it also runs Trinity Christian School (TCS).
Questions about Hanoum’s financial dealings became public last year when the church and school fell repeatedly behind in rent and failed to deliver on numerous promises to pay. The debt reached a maximum of $156,000 (eight months’ rent).
Parishioners began speaking out when Hanoum asked his congregation for $400,000 in donations to cover the rent, hundreds of thousands more than was needed for the lease payments. The rent through the end of 2010 has since been paid, but nothing has been paid since December.
MVCC’s lease with the OUESD expires in June and will not be extended, said Superintendent Rick Rogers.
As of Tuesday, however, officials at the school were soliciting non-refundable payments for summer school, telling callers that the session would be held in the current location.
According to the state attorney general’s records, Hanoum founded MVCC as a 501(c)3 nonprofit California corporation in 2004. Those records also show that MVCC’s corporate charter has been suspended since 2009 for non-payment of taxes. According to state law, a corporation with a suspended charter cannot legally conduct business.
In addition to Rister’s criminal investigation, Hanoum also faces a $1.2 million civil lawsuit filed by Quinlan. The suit alleges that Hanoum approached Quinlan in 2005, immediately after the death of her husband, and counseled her to take her life savings and investments out of the stock market and place them in the care of Hanoum and MVCC. Quinlan and her husband had been members of MVCC when the church was located in Brentwood. The suit states that Hanoum made daily phone calls to Quinlan about her money.
Hanoum assured Quinlan her money would be safe in his care, available to her on 10-days’ notice, and offered a 50-percent return on her investments in three years. Despite her request that Hanoum produce a deed of trust or proof of ownership on the two properties, none was given. To date, none of Quinlan’s investment has been repaid, and she has filed suit against MVCC, Hanoum and Jerry Dellinger – a Brentwood businessman who was the founding secretary of MVCC and is now listed as the organization’s president.
Quinlan, now 74, filed suit in February, and a court date of April 29 has been set. She is seeking repayment of the two notes, plus treble damages for elder financial abuse and mental suffering. The total is $1.2 million.
The suit states that the “Defendants’ conduct as Plaintiff’s Pastors in coercing Plaintiff into lending them substantial amounts of money which Defendant had no intention to repay shortly after the death of Plaintiff’s husband and falsely asserting that the promissory notes were secured by real property was done with the intent to defraud Plaintiff. …
“Defendants’ intimidating behavior and deceptive actions in asserting that the promissory notes were secured by real property when in fact they were not, that the investments were safe and repayable with 10 days notice were made with malicious intent to coerce Plaintiff to loan Defendants substantial sums of money and that Defendants has no intent to repay caused Plaintiff to endure mental suffering. Defendants actions caused fear, agitation, confusion, severe depression and other forms of serious emotional distress in Plaintiff.”
Attorney Heidi Coad-Hermelin, who represents Quinlan, is confident her client will prevail. “There is absolutely no doubt that the money is owed,” said Coad-Hermelin. “I believe the facts are there, and the breach of contract is as plain as day.”
Reached by cell phone Tuesday, Hanoum refused to comment, saying only, “I’m sorry, I have nothing to say to you.”
Phone calls made to Dellinger were not returned.
In the winter of 2007, former MVCC member Marsha Nichols and her husband Bob were approached by Hanoum to invest $150,000 in Hanoum Estate.
“We were invited to spend an evening out at Hanoum Estate by the pastor and his wife, and I remember thinking how nice it was that we were being invited to their home,” said Nichols. “When we got there, there were other people there as well, and they wined and dined us, gave us the tour of the grounds and really made us feel special. And then it got down to what his vision was for the house and land and how he was looking for investors to help him make the transformation happen, and how he was only selecting a few individuals to get in on the investment.”
According to Nichols, Hanoum was guaranteeing a 50-percent return on their investment within three years. Nichols said she and her husband were concerned about tax consequences and Hanoum’s ability to guarantee such a large return, and eventually declined to make the investment.
Not long afterward, Nichols said Hanoum learned that her recently deceased son had left a small inheritance to his three children, and he again approached Nichols to invest her grandchildren’s money with MVCC.
“He (Hanoum) said he didn’t like doing anything under $100,000 but in this situation, in the interest of my grandchildren, he would be willing to take less,” said Nichols of the approximately $50,000 trust fund. “He said he could take the money and invest it for my grandchildren, and if we were needing it at any time he could get it back to us in three days’ time. We eventually said no, that it wasn’t our money to invest, and that was that. … Once we said no, his attitude changed. He wasn’t openly rude, just kind of indifferent.”
Both Rister and Nichols believe there might be hundreds of other parishioners – past and present – who have invested with Hanoum and never seen a repayment on their loans. Rister and Evenson encourage those who feel they might have been victims of fraud, or who have information pertaining to their investigations, to contact them. Rister can be reached at 707-374-6366; Evenson at 925-634-6911.
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