After all, his crimes were non-violent. He’s African-American, and systemic racism has caused the “over-incarceration” of black men. He’s a man of God, and the Bible tells us to forgive. It says that there should be redemption even after heinous wrongdoing. Should Charles Southall III even spend time in prison at all?
For more than three decades, he has led the First Emanuel Baptist church in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. But the minister also embezzled donations from congregants that were supposed to fund charity projects and building improvements. He stole grant and loan funds from the Edgar P Harney Spirit of Excellence Academy that he had created, and deposited them in a bank account controlled by him and an accomplice. He converted rental and sale payments on properties owned by his church. All together, the minister took about $900,000, and used the money to pay off his personal expenses and purchases.
He pleaded guilty and has pledged to pay back what he can. The guess is that Southall will spend less than a decade in prison, probably much less. Are you satisfied with that result?
The verdict here on Ethics Alarms is that even a decade isn’t enough. This man has done far more harm than the typical thief, even more than the typical thief of nearly a million dollars. He took money that was supposed to help the needy. He misused funds families of ordinary means gave to the church in the spirit of charity and generosity. He abused their trust, and quite possibly damaged the faith of many of them. Southall betrayed his profession, and it is a profession that is supposed to bolster virtue and values in society, not make a mockery of them.
What Southall did is worse, in my view, than armed robbery. It deserves the same kind of harsh sentence Bernie Madoff received for stealing the assets of foundations, investors and retirees. Madoff took billions, and was sentenced to 150 years, because that was the maximum the law allowed. Madoff, however, didn’t steal his money in the name of God, charity, and community service.
150 years locked up for Southall seems about right to me.