Investigators Uncover Church Donation Scam

By: Morgan Kyrklund Email
By: Morgan Kyrklund Email

PANAMA CITY - The Bay County Sheriff’s Office announced Thursday the arrest of Sherlynn Ann Murrell for Fraudulent Charitable Solicitation.

On November 17, an off duty Bay County Sheriffs Office Investigator was solicited for a charitable donation by one of three men asking for money outside a department store in Lynn Haven.

When asked who the donation was for, the man was vague and answered “battered women and children."

The investigator returned a short while later to ask the men the name of the charity, but they were gone.

The investigation found 58 year old Sherlynn Ann Murrell had signed up with the department store to collect money for a local church during the time the three men had been soliciting donations.

Murrell was contacted by investigators.

She stated she had intended to go collect for a local church but never went to the store that day.

Investigators contacted the local church, which denied any connection to Murrell.

Investigators found Murrell had been collecting donations at various locations in Bay County.

When contacted again, Murrell admitted collecting hundreds of dollars on behalf of the church without permission and later giving $14 to the church.

Investigators say she gave the money to the church after law enforcement had contacted Murrell about her efforts.

A warrant was issued for Murrell and she was arrested Wednesday afternoon.

Security camera video was released to the media and a tip came in that all three men were involved with a church in Crestview, Florida and that one of the men was a pastor at the church, Harvest Vineyard Ministries.

The man said he was an intern staying at the church.

However, investigators later discovered he was a convicted felon.

The pastor of the church, Alex Thompson, had been arrested on a warrant last month on charges of Child Neglect with Great Bodily Harm.

The Bay County Sheriff's Office was able to contact Kenny Crane, who was serving as President of Harvest Vineyard Ministries.

Crane said the three men soliciting donations in Bay County were staying at the church in Crestview and were not paid to collect money

Investigators say while the church did not pay the men a salary, they did pay probation fees for the men out of monies collected as “donations for battered women and children."

According to officials, most of the 80 people that stay at the ministry buildings are kept busy by holding car washes and soliciting on behalf of the church.

Law enforcement says that some of the residents at the church are registered sex offenders and felons still on probation.

These residents also live with the women and children on the property.

The investigation into Harvest Vineyard Ministries continues.

Anyone wishing to donate to a charity is encouraged to use caution when approached for money.

8195 Front Beach Road Panama City Beach, FL 32407 Station: 850-234-7777 News: 850-230-5221 Fax: 850-233-6647
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