The Rev. Mark-Anthony Rassmann had a simple explanation for his innocence when he was accused of forging a parishioner's signature to give him ownership of four of her properties.
"Only a fool would steal something to go into debt," he said.
In March, the pastor of Greater Mount Pisgah A.M.E. Church in Haddonfield turned himself in after the deceased woman's two daughters accused him of stealing their inheritance. This month, Camden County prosecutors dropped charges against Rassmann.
When the 65-year-old woman, whose name has not been released, died in August 2008, the daughters discovered that the Camden properties - two in the 800 block of Haddon Avenue and two in the 1500 block of Mount Ephraim Avenue - had been signed over to Rassmann.
But Rassmann said the woman, whom he identified as his godmother, was alive and aware of what she was doing when she signed the properties over to him that April.
The buildings weren't exactly prime real estate. The woman had not paid taxes for more than a decade, and the back taxes totaled about $130,000, he said.
Her hope was that he would rehabilitate the buildings and rent them out so they could be passed down to her granddaughters, Rassmann said.
Around the time the charges were filed in March, Rassmann said, he signed the properties over to the woman's daughters at their request.
"They thought they were getting a windfall; they thought that this was gold in the ground," he said.
The pastor's church, at 238 Ellis St., was destroyed by a blaze in 2006. He said assuming ownership of the four Camden properties was unrelated to the fire.
After a couple of years of insurance litigation, during which services were held in nearby Grace Episcopal Church, the congregation has raised $225,000 to repair the building, Rassmann said. Construction is slated to begin in August, with the reopening scheduled for October.