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Ex-owner of Hagerstown Christian retreat now involved in Ga. rift

October 30, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

The former owner of a Hagerstown Christian retreat - who was indicted on federal tax charges in August - is at the center of a church rift in Georgia.

Otis Ray Hope was a principal partner in Shiloh Ministries, a nonprofit religious group that purchased the former YMCA building at 149 N. Potomac St. in Hagerstown in 2002.

Hope faces three counts of tax evasion and one count of subscribing to a false document, according to an indictment handed up in August.

He is accused of failing to claim $843,410 in taxable income for him and his spouse from 2001 to 2003, which led to his paying $17,148 in taxes instead of $287,131.

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Another count alleges Hope improperly tried to get a federal income-tax exemption for Shiloh.

A jury trial is scheduled for March 2009 in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

This month, Hope resigned as pastor of First Baptist Church of Warrenton, Ga., according to a story in the McDuffie Mirror, a newspaper in that area.

Warrenton Mayor Tony Mimbs, a deacon in the church, said in a phone interview that Hope's resignation Oct. 21 after six months as pastor came the same day a board of deacons met to discuss newly discovered issues from Hope's past, including the indictment.

Several deacons left the Warrenton church last week after Hope did and started a church in Thomson, a nearby city, Mimbs said.

There was no phone directory listing online for Hope in Warrenton or Thomson. Phone messages left for two First Baptist deacons said to have followed to the new church Hope weren't returned Wednesday.

When Hope arrived at First Baptist, deacons didn't know about allegations connected to the indictment or an older U.S. Securities Exchange Commission complaint against Hope, Mimbs said.

A 2002 Herald-Mail story included an Associated Press report that Hope and his brother, Richard W. Hope, were accused of defrauding investors.

In 1999, the Hopes agreed to a settlement "without admitting or denying" the 1991 allegations against them, the story says.

The story also says Hope - known then as the Rev. Ray Hope - resigned in September 2002 from Montrose Baptist Church in Rockville, Md., where he was pastor for six years.

A Montrose associate pastor said at the time that the church was trying to recover hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid school tuition.

Hope was involved in a company called Maryland International Students Association that recruited Korean families for an English as a Second Language program. The company was supposed to collect tuition and give it to the school, but didn't, the associate pastor said.

When Hope came to Hagerstown, Shiloh Ministries paid $500,000 in cash for the former YMCA building, according to a deed at the Washington County Courthouse.

In February 2007, Bank of America gave Shiloh a $1,750,000 refinancing loan, according to court records. As of Sept. 4, 2007, when a foreclosure was started, the unpaid balance was $1,817,744.81, records show.

The foreclosure case was halted this year.

Hagerstown real estate owner Vincent Groh said Wednesday that Biltrite Homes, a company of his, took over the note, but Shiloh still owns the building.

He said he has no plans for the building yet and hasn't ruled out that the loan will be repaid. "There's always hope," he said.

The City of Hagerstown condemned the building in May. John Lestitian, the city's chief code compliance officer, said the violations are not structural.

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