A Burlington Township man who is the chief high priest of a black separatist “hate group” admitted to a federal charge of conspiracy to evade taxes Wednesday after prosecutors said he spent $5.3 million of the church’s money to fund a lavish lifestyle and then failed to report the money to the government.
Jermaine Grant, 44, who heads the Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ in Harlem, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Newark. He could face up to five years and $250,000 in fines when he is sentenced in July, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark.
The church treasurer, Lincoln Warrington, 49, of Teaneck, in Bergen County, also pleaded guilty and admitted conspiring with Grant to help him divert the donations and evade taxes.
Federal prosecutors said Grant failed to pay about $250,000 in taxes after misusing millions of dollars in church money between 2007 and 2015. Grant spent church funds on vacations in Florida, designer clothing, shoes, and accessories, including two Gucci handbags that cost more than $3,000 each, along with electronic devices and home furnishings.
The money also was used to purchase real estate for Grant and his family in New Jersey, New York, and Florida; to pay for his children’s private-school tuition; and to buy and lease vehicles including a 2010 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van and a 2014 Kawasaki recreational vehicle, prosecutors said. His children were driven to school in a chauffeured Mercedes, according to the indictment.
The church has chapters in Camden, Asbury Park, and Vineland, and Philadelphia, Coatesville, and Norristown. It is on the extremist fringe of the Hebrew Israelite movement, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups. The church preaches that blacks are the “true Jews,” while “Jews are devilish impostors and white people are evil personified, deserving of death or slavery,” the Law Center says.
The Law Center also reported that Grant called himself the “Chief High Priest Tazadaqyah,” in 2009, saying that he was the “Holy Spirit” and that a “vengeful black Jesus would soon return to Earth to kill or enslave all whites."
As part of their scheme, Grant and Warrington created an entertainment company, Black Icon Entertainment, which diverted money from the church to entertainment offices in New Jersey, New York, and California. The company “portrayed Grant as an industry mogul whose wealth was derived from his success in the industry, thereby concealing from church members that his lifestyle was supported entirely by the church and donations from its members,” the indictment said.
Under the terms of the plea agreements, Grant and Warrington each face up to 30 months in prison, should the judge accept the terms. The plea agreements also require the church to develop and submit a plan to ensure that the church will comply with tax laws in the future. The cash and property seized from the church during the investigation will be returned after the church creates an acceptable compliance plan to demonstrate that the funds and items will only be used for the benefit of the church, prosecutors said.