Like a fire-and-brimstone preacher, a federal judge severely dressed down a local pastor and former Columbus Urban League official Friday before sentencing him to 3 1/2 years in prison for stealing more than $85,000 from the league.
U.S. District Judge Algenon L. Marbley chastised defendant Ovell K. Harrison for hurting the people who depend on the league for help as he filtered money into his own pocket for seven years.
“People like you come along and give people hope and then take it away because it’s convenient for you!” the judge thundered at Harrison. “People tend not to think about the victims. I want you to think about the people who were victimized, who more often than not are forgotten.”
Marbley’s 15-minute lecture came after Harrison, 55, of E. Mithoff Street in Merion Village, apologized to the court and said he’s engulfed in guilt “every morning” about his actions. Harrison, pastor of the Messiah Worship Center in Columbus, did not talk about the harm he’d done to those who depend on the Urban League for help.
He had pleaded guilty in September to single counts of bank fraud and aggravated identity theft.
Harrison was the league’s director of education services when, from 2004 to 2010, he stole $85,181 by creating false invoices for work that contractors supposedly did. Harrison submitted the invoices to the league, using the identities of four contractors who were unaware of the scheme.
Then Harrison either picked up the payment checks or had them mailed to a P.O. box he rented.
Police learned of the scheme after one contractor reported being an identity-theft victim.
The judge’s sentence went beyond what a presentence report and the government recommended, which was three years and three months in prison.
Harrison’s attorney, Terry K. Sherman, had asked that his client get a two-year prison sentence, which is automatic in an identity-theft conviction.
Marbley also ordered Harrison to pay $85,181 in restitution.
The U.S. Department of Labor, the Office of the Inspector General, the U.S. Housing and Urban Development and Columbus police investigated Harrison.
By Kathy Lynn Gray - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
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