Pastor accused of fleecing one of his flock

  • Article by: WARREN WOLFE and PAUL WALSH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 10, 2011 - 7:00 AM

Rev. Gregory Oats of Roseville had power of attorney for the man, now dying.

Vernon Rollins felt a special kinship with the Rev. Gregory Oats. They shared a passion for preaching, ordination into Pentecostal ministries and, apparently, a deep concern for others.

"We were really happy when Greg befriended Dad -- helped him get to the doctor, visited, prayed with him," said Rachel Rollins. "When I got suspicious, I still wanted to believe I was wrong about Greg."

She wasn't, authorities said.

Oats, a St. Paul faith leader who lives in Roseville, has been charged with hijacking the finances of his 77-year-old congregant, then spending thousands of dollars of Rollins' money at Wal-Mart, Burger King and other retail outlets.

Oats, 31, was charged in Hennepin County District Court with four felony counts of financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult after convincing Rollins to give him power of attorney over his finances.

Rollins, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's, diabetes and mental illness, was one of 1,678 alleged victims of financial exploitation in 2010, state records show.

"It's a serious problem, second only to neglect," said Carmen Castaneda, who manages Hennepin County Adult Protection Services, which took the call from Rollins' daughter.

"We don't recommend people grant power of attorney," said Castaneda, who is part of a local consortium of groups studying Minnesota's power-of-attorney law. "In the right hands, trusted hands, it's a powerfully useful tool. In the wrong hands it's a license to steal."

Oats allegedly took more than $16,000 of Rollins' money for numerous purchases, according to a criminal complaint. He also put Rollins at risk of eviction from the Golden Living Center-Chateau nursing home in Minneapolis by letting his bill there go unpaid for about nine months, an amount totaling nearly $13,000, it said.

Oats did not respond Wednesday to phone and e-mail messages.

"Pastor Oats was so kind, so much like Dad," Rachel Rollins said.

Rollins was hospitalized recently and on Tuesday was moved to a different nursing home in Bloomington, closer to a son, daughter and former wife. He is in hospice care and near death, his daughter said.

Loved preaching

An unpaid evangelist, Rollins was ordained in 1978 into the nondenominational Fountain of the Living Word church in Dallas, according to his former wife, Linda Rollins. He held numerous jobs to support his ministry, including teaching photography and graphic design.

"Vern was always looking out for people. He'd go to court with people, get people counseling or medical care or food," she said.

Eventually he became a deacon in Oats' church.

Oats was ordained in 2005 in the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World denomination. Bishop Richard Howell, who officiated at Oats' ordination, said Wednesday that Oats remains a pastor in good standing. "We are expecting ... that he'll be exonerated of all these charges," said Howell, who ministers from Shiloh Temple International Ministries in north Minneapolis.

Oats and his wife filed for bankruptcy protection in December 2009, according to court records, about 10 weeks before Oats took over Rollins' financial affairs. The filing showed the couple with more than $43,000 in debts and less than $10,000 in assets.

The Rev. James Erlandson, senior pastor at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer Church in St. Paul, said Oats' congregation has worshiped in his church's auditorium for the past two years and holds Bible studies there every Thursday night.

Word of Faith Ministries consists of 10 to 15 congregants and leases space for about $100 a month, though there have been times when Oats hasn't been able to make payments, Erlandson said.

According to the complaint, filed Oct. 25:

Oats, as Rollins' designated "care agent," had Rollins moved to the Golden Living Center in June 2010. Two months later, Rachel Rollins reported her suspicions to Hennepin County Adult Protection Services.

Police determined that Oats made 130 ATM withdrawals from Rollins' bank account. Oats acknowledged to an adult protection staffer that he withdrew the money, but he said it was being spent on Rollins' needs.

Staff writer Rose French contributed to this report. pwalsh@startribune.com • 612-673-4482 wolfe@startribune.com • 612-673-7253

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