THREE WEEKS before taking the helm of North Philadelphia's Zion Baptist Church, the Rev. A. Carl Prince met with leaders of the small Virginia church he was leaving.

On Dec. 18, 2011, he and Mount Hope Baptist Church leaders signed an "Announcement of Retirement" that took effect at the end of that year.

Prince asked that "in the interest of the Church and Christian civility, that all litigation and investigations both civil and criminal, present and future, be ceased," the statement said.

On Jan. 12, 2012, Prince officially started at Zion, at Broad and Venango streets, one of the city's most prominent churches. For 38 years, it had been the church of the late human-rights and economic-development advocate Rev. Leon Sullivan, the "Lion of Zion."

It seems that Prince, who was voted out as pastor of the Philly church this month, had left some problems behind at Mount Hope, in Prince George County, 30 miles from Richmond.

There were 400 members when Prince arrived, but just 20 when he left, former trustee John Allen said.

"He wrote new bylaws that made him both the CEO and CFO of the church," Allen said.

"He had his name put on the church bank account and he tried to sell the church out from under the last 20 members."

One document in the case, "Mabel Crockett, et al v. Mount Hope Baptist Church, et al," said: "The pastor [Prince] is the Chief Executive Officer of the church."

Rosalind Plummer, a lawyer representing Prince and 47 other Zion members challenging the July 12 vote to dismiss him, have filed a lawsuit in Common Pleas Court to have the vote voided. She said members did not get three months' notice as required by church bylaws.

"He [Prince] has not engaged in any misconduct at this church," Plummer said. "He was not terminated for any misconduct."

Plummer and members supporting Prince said he was forced out for asking questions about an audit of Zion's funds.

Plummer did not allow Prince to be interviewed for this article.

She said there was nothing wrong with Prince signing a statement in Virginia that litigation against him be ended.

"If I were his attorney then, I probably would have recommended he sign it," Plummer said. "That's not a finding he was guilty of anything."

Cynthia Fullenwellen, a longtime Zion member, said a deacon's report that recommended Prince be dismissed for being "ineffective" and having a "domineering spirit" was not fair.

"Pastor Prince is a warm and compassionate man of the cloth," Fullenwellen wrote in an email to the Daily News.

"He has upgraded a lot of items around our church, most of it he receives criticism for. . . . We've had two very successful Community Day events where we fed over 800 people and gave away 500 book bags and supplies for children in grades K-12."

But Allen and others in Virginia painted a different portrait.

Prince could not convince the 20 mostly elderly remaining members to sell the church and rent space in a nearby school, Allen said, and one day Allen found investors walking around the building.

"I told them in most un-Christian terms that the church was not for sale," he said.

Other court documents show that members suing Prince had asked Virginia Union University, where Prince had obtained a divinity degree, for "all billing documents to or payments made by Adolphis C. Prince, a/k/a A. Carl Prince."

Allen said Prince had merged several bank accounts into one.

Raymond Crockett, a Mount Hope deacon, said he left the Virginia church one Sunday after arguing with Prince and didn't return for eight years.

Prince's lawyer then, A. Donald McEachin, was a Virginia state legislator who Allen said worked pro bono. McEachin, now a state senator, declined to comment.

Prince, 55, was still driving an SUV with Virginia license plates when he was voted out this month.

On June 21, members said, Prince brought two armed guards into the sanctuary for a meeting about his future.

Allen said that Prince also brought an armed guard to a funeral in Virginia.

In August 2009, a Virginia judge issued an order demanding that Prince and others conduct an audit of Mount Hope's 2003-07 finances.

When told about that court order, Plummer said: "He was making darn sure that he's not being held accountable for other people's conduct.

"The trustees are the ones that handle the money. The pastor can be set up to take the fall."

Ronald Harper, chair of the Zion trustee board, called that "nonsense" and said Zion's treasurer had been asking for an audit for years before Prince arrived.

Emma C. Chappell, a Zion member challenging the vote to fire Prince, is the founder and former chief executive of United Bank of Philadelphia.

On the Sunday before the vote, Chappell was among several members wearing red-and-white buttons that read: Save Zion. Vote for Pastor Prince.