Wow. I used to worship at First Presbyterian Church for a spell when I lived in Hyde Park. They have a great lunch program serving many people struggling to make ends meet on the south side. Someone stole their land, or, better, land held by them in trust for the larger denomination. And there are several other churches involved too…
The board of directors of the First Presbyterian Church of Chicago authorized the sale last year of several vacant lots that the church had owned for nearly 10 years.
With land values in the Woodlawn neighborhood skyrocketing, the South Side church’s four parcels were sold quickly–and two were resold–with more than $1.1 million changing hands in the transactions.
But there is one problem: The pastor at First Presbyterian says the church doesn’t have a board of directors.
And the church never approved the sale of any of the four lots.
In a wide-ranging scheme involving fictitious sellers and buyers, bogus resolutions from non-existent boards–and even a phony notary public–the churches have lost at least 20 parcels to unauthorized sales, the Tribune investigation has found.
In most cases, the church officials were unaware of the fraud until contacted by the Tribune.
“They’re taking advantage of the most vulnerable,” said Pastor Gerald Wise, whose historic First Presbyterian sits at 6400 S. Kimbark Ave. “Those parcels are our dowry.”
The lots, mostly vacant patches of land located in neighborhoods showing signs of gentrification, have been sold in transactions linked to a disbarred Berwyn attorney,
according to court records.
Despite its patrician past, First Presbyterian now has just 190 members and often struggles to find money for its social programs. The church operates the oldest Head Start programs in the city, as well as one of the largest food distribution centers and hot meals programs on the South Side, church officials say.
The lots acquired by First Presbyterian were not always highly prized. Ten years ago a non-profit group purchased the properties for $250 each at tax sale. The properties, four vacant lots on three different blocks near the church, were then given to First Presbyterian.
Wise said any land sale by the church would require a number of formal steps, including approval by the 12 church elders elected to First Presbyterian’s session and the Presbytery of Chicago.
“It’s a long process to sell land,” Wise said. “There’s no sneaking anything past anyone.”
Cook County land records, however, include a resolution submitted to the Cook County recorder of deeds, which purported to show that the board of directors of First Presbyterian had approved the sales of four properties starting in April 2005.
My wife (who is an attorney) thinks that they should get it back, since it all is fraudulent, but its gonna be a mess.