Pastor Tried to Control Followers' Lives From the Womb to the Tomb
AP News Archive May. 19, 1988 2:34 PM ET
NEW YORK (AP) _ A pastor charged with raping two teen-agers required members of his church to turn over their savings accounts to him and furnish tax records to prove they were giving enough to the church.
Law enforcement sources also said Wednesday that newlywed members of the Rev. Thomas Streitferdt's True Church of God were required to honeymoon at a church-owned resort in Mexico and to register babies at the church's school.
In order to get to heaven, he told his congregants, they had to be buried at the church-owned cemetery in New Jersey, according to the sources, who spoke on condition their names not be used.
Streitferdt took complete personal charge of the savings accounts of many of his members and offered them other banking services, the sources said.
He is free on $25,000 bail following his arraignment Monday on two counts each of first-degree rape and first-degree sodomy involving two sisters, age 14 and 16. A hearing was scheduled for Friday.
A Brooklyn minister who spoke Wednesday on condition of anonymity said some members of Streitferdt's church said that the pastor required them to show him their W-2 forms to prove they were giving part of their incomes to the church.
The minister said members of the church, located in a poor Harlem neighborhood, called him fearing they would be charged with tax violations, following news reports of questionable financial activities by Streitferdt.
Law enforcement sources said tax and financial records of the church and Streitferdt will be subpoenaed. The sources said a two-year investigation showed the pastor registered possessions in the name of a church or religious group.
Among the possessions is a $1.4 million waterfront estate on Long Island, where the pastor, who is white, lives with his wife, who is black. It also includes several Mercedes-Benz automobiles, property in the Virgin Islands, a honeymoon resort in Acapulco, and the Rose Hill Cemetery in Linden, N.J.
''Everything is owned by the church,'' confirmed Streitferdt's lawyer, Ben Herzweig, who added, ''It's a legitimate church.'' He called Streitferdt ''an honorable, deeply religious man who tries his best to help people.''
The law enforcement sources said Streitferdt had churches in other cities, including Elmira and Syracuse, and in the Caribbean.
To finance purchase of the properties, including the lavish Harlem church, Streitferdt required an annual 10 percent tithe from his 700 members, except every third year when he required 30 percent.
Streitferdt required that children born to congregants be registered, for a fee, with the church's school at the age of 6 months, sources said. Tuition is $600 at the school, which is not regulated by the state because it does not go through the 12th grade or offer diplomas.
The Harlem church, dedicated in 1975, was locked Wednesday. A church employee said Streitferdt was not in the building but would conduct services Sunday morning.