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Island AME pastors closely watching US legal action over pensions

The Reverend Larry E Dixon, AME Church presiding elder (File photograph).

Pastors in Bermuda are monitoring lawsuits filed in the United States that allege tens of millions of pension fund dollars were mismanaged or missing, a senior clergyman said.

The allegations were made against the African Methodist Episcopal Church as well as several subsidiaries and financial firms used by the organisation.

At least three federal lawsuits were filed by retired and current pastors last month.

The AME Church said earlier that it was committed to restoring any retirement funds affected by “possible financial irregularities”.

Bermuda’s AME churches form part of the denomination’s First District and it is understood that the island’s 11 pastors are enrolled in the pension scheme.

The Reverend Larry Dixon, of St Philip AME Church, Smith’s, is the presiding elder for the West District of the Bermuda Conference.

He said: “We are not directly involved.”

But Dr Dixon added: “All of our pastors are watching with interest.”

He said none of the island’s AME pastors were expected to retire soon and none has been unable to access pension funds already.

The plaintiffs in the US are seeking class-action status on behalf of thousands of other AME pastors and church officials throughout the country who lost money through the pension fund.

The pastors, who were required to take part in the retirement plan, said they have been unable to get access to their money.

In a case filed by the Reverend Charles Jackson, of Florida, it is alleged that the church and its related financial institutions were negligent and breached their fiduciary responsibilities.

He is seeking a jury trial and punitive damages in the complaint filed in federal court in Tennessee.

The allegation said: “Many class member – including Plaintiff Reverend Jackson – are retired and have suddenly learnt that resources they relied on to support themselves, to depend on in times of bad health, and to simply enjoy during retirement, have been stolen from them by people they trusted.”

In their lawsuit filed in Virginia, the reverends Derrell Wade and Reuben Boyd allege that between $80 million and $90 million was unaccounted for by either 2020 or 2021.

A case by the Reverend Cedric Alexander, of Maryland, alleges violations of a federal law protecting employee retirement funds.

Bishop E. Anne Henning Byfield, President of the Council of Bishops of the AME Church, said pension plan contributors were “predominantly” in the US.

She added: “The African Methodist Episcopal Church (AMEC) Department of Retirement Services is aware of the lawsuit. While we are limited in what we can share due to the ongoing litigation, we can say the Department of Retirement Services takes the stewardship of member funds very seriously.

“During the 2021 Department of Retirement Services leadership transition, a newly elected plan administrator uncovered possible financial irregularities in certain retirement fund investments.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we immediately engaged outside legal counsel and forensics experts to conduct an independent and comprehensive investigation. We are actively working with law enforcement to investigate this matter and recover any misappropriated funds.”

Her statement added: “We appreciate our community’s concern and remain grateful for the patience of our clergy, staff and members as we continue to investigate this matter.”

In a message posted to its website last month, the church said that “retirement plan participants may have been the victim of a financial crime”.

It added that “all possible details” were shared with the church community at meetings in December, January and March.

It added: “We are also committed to making every fund participant whole by restoring their full investment plus interest.”

It is The Royal Gazette’s policy not to allow comments on stories regarding court cases. As we are legally liable for any libellous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers.