Keys pastor, accused of theft, heads back to court

A Bahama Village pastor accused of stealing $54,657 from his small community church is due in front of Monroe County Circuit Court Judge Mark Jones on Dec. 12 for a status hearing.

John W. McKenzie, former leader of St. James Missionary Baptist Church on Olivia Street in Key West, was arrested in June on a felony larceny charge for allegedly stealing more than $20,000 but less than $100,000.

McKenzie, 50, is free pending trial, which is set for Jan. 13, although that is subject to change. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.

The investigation into McKenzie's handling of church finances started when Monroe County State Attorney's Office Investigator Chris Weber received a tip from a member of the St. James' board of trustees, leading to a review of the books from July 2011 until June 2013.

An arrest affidavit from Weber says McKenzie was entitled to a salary of $700 a week since coming to the church in 2009.

During the 96-week period investigated, "McKenzie was entitled to $67,200 reimbursement for services rendered based on his contract with the church," Weber wrote.

"During this same period, McKenzie or the financial secretary had written $121,857 in checks payable to [McKenzie]. By doing this, McKenzie temporarily or permanently deprived the parishioners of St. James Baptist Church of their monies."

Extensive evidentiary records provided by the State Attorney's Office, largely made up of cancelled checks written by and to McKenzie, indicate the pastor regularly gave himself large advances out of the church's general and equity, meant to eventually rebuild the church, funds.

In January 2013 alone, McKenzie wrote checks to himself totaling $8,200.

In Weber's affidavit, the investigator wrote: "McKenzie told [me] that he knew the church trustees were accusing him of writing checks to himself. He said that he had written checks to himself as pay advances."

"McKenzie also admitted transferring the funds from the equity account. He said he made the transfer because the monthly collections had recently been significantly reduced and funds were needed to run the church."