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TENNESSEE: Pastor arrested on money laundering charges

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Pastor Michael Whitsey of the Abundant Life Christian Center, wasarrested on money laundering chargesNASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - A Middle Tennessee pastor, first exposed by the Channel 4 I-Team for collecting money from his congregation but never telling them the church was in foreclosure, was arrested on federal charges of money laundering related to narcotics distribution.

In an indictment filed Sep. 19, a federal grand jury charged Michael Whitsey on 10 counts of money laundering, citing transactions totaling $375,000 made between May and December of 2008.

U.S. attorneys claim Whitsey and others hid the proceeds from selling more than $200,000 worth of narcotics by purchasing land near his church in Murfreesboro.

The Channel 4 I-Team was first to report in August about the bankruptcy and closure of the Abundant Life Christian Center in Antioch. Parishioners told the Channel 4 I-Team that Whitsey asked for $1,000 donations to buy the church by the end of the year, without mentioning he filed for bankruptcy and would likely lose the church building to creditors.

The Antioch church closed without warning in June, moving to another location in Murfreesboro. The bank seized the Antioch building and prepared to sell everything inside to recoup some of the hundreds of thousands of dollars Whitsey owed to creditors.

Bank records contained in bankruptcy filings showed thousands of dollars in checks being written monthly from the church's bank account to Pastor Whitsey and his wife Michele.

Whitsey told the I-Team by phone in the past that parishioner's donations were used to pay the church's bills.

Former members of the church had contacted the Channel 4 I-Team, looking for help in finding out what happened to the donations.

One former member asked us to hide her identity because of her fears that Whitsey was still involved in the criminal activities of his past.

"You just never know what's in the back of a person's mind. I have to watch out for myself," the former member said.

Prosecutors said in court that Whitsey failed to disclose in the church's bankruptcy filings that there was an estimated $700,000 in donations that Whitsey could access.

Prosecutors also said Whitsey had three cars, including two Mercedes and a land rover, and that all that could be accessed in order to skip town.

"We have reason to believe that this defendant may have access to more money," US Attorney Jerry Martin said.