Former pastor gets 3 years’ probation for theft from Eureka Springs church
The former pastor of a Eureka Springs church who was accused of siphoning more than $60,000 in donations for his personal use was sentenced last week to three years of supervised probation and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors.
George Darryl Harris pleaded guilty to a single count of theft by receiving, a Class D felony. He had been charged with theft of property, a Class B felony, but prosecutors amended that charge as part of the plea agreement.
Carroll County Circuit Judge Scott Jackson accepted the plea agreement and sentenced Harris during a hearing on June 21.
Harris, who served as pastor of New Day Fellowship Church on Passion Play Road, was arrested by a Carroll County Sheriff’s Office deputy on Oct. 25, 2019, on charges of theft of property and financial identity fraud.
According to an affidavit written by CCSO investigator Jami Yarbrough, a representative of the church told a deputy that Harris opened an unauthorized bank account in the church’s name and then began depositing money from tithes into the account, without the knowledge of anyone at the church.
Paperwork provided by the church representative showed deposits into the account totaling $69,915, the affidavit says. In court documents, prosecutors said the total amount was $65,009. The alleged embezzlement was discovered after church members began asking about discrepancies on their giving statements, according to the affidavit.
After being confronted by the church treasurer, the affidavit says, Harris confessed to taking the money. The church’s leadership team was notified and attempted to get Harris to close the account and repay the money, according to the affidavit. Harris did not close the account, however, and was asked to resign from the church, the affidavit says. According to the church representative who contacted the sheriff’s office, the deposits and withdrawals continued until April 2, 2019, the affidavit says. The church then contacted a lawyer to draft a promissory note “to assist Mr. Harris with paying the money back,” according to the affidavit, but Harris did not sign the note after receiving it through certified mail.
The church representative said a signed, notarized confession was obtained from Harris, the affidavit says, and a copy of that document is included with the affidavit.
Yarbrough contacted Harris by phone on Sept. 27, 2019, and asked for a statement of his version of events, the affidavit says.
“At first, Mr. Harris stated he did not know what I was talking about,” Yarbrough writes. “Once I advised I was looking at a file with a notarized, written confession signed by him, Mr. Harris informed me that he was represented by an attorney.”
Harris could not provide the name of the attorney, however, the affidavit says. Instead, he told Yarbrough that he was waiting on an attorney to call him back and might be able to provide the attorney’s name the following week.
In the undated confession included with the affidavit, Harris writes that he had resigned as pastor and would vacate his living quarters by June 1, 2019. He admits depositing 174 “separate items” from 47 individuals from March 2017 to April 2019.
“All of the checks were written to New Day Fellowship with the exception of approximately 14 checks made out to Darryl Harris,” he writes. “Most of the checks were marked clearly as tithes and offerings to NDF.”
Harris writes that he gained possession of the checks by members handing them directly to him, receiving them through the mail and secretly taking them from the church’s offering box.
“During my time as pastor at NDF people have handed me CASH that were clearly tithes and offerings intended for NDF, but that I kept personally,” Harris writes. “I do not know the total of the stolen cash.”
Harris goes on to write that in January 2019, he accepted an $800 cash offering designated toward the replacement of the church sign and kept the money for personal use. He writes that he repaid that money to the church member who originally donated it.
“Although a small portion of the money was spent on reasonable church ministry expenses, the MAJORITY of money was spent for the personal benefit of myself, my spouse, and my family,” Harris writes. “These expenses including Hunting supplies, Guns, Groceries, Recreation, Restaurants and general living expenses.”
In the final paragraph of the confession, Harris writes that he intends to make restitution to the church “for the financial damage my actions have caused.”
In a March 16 letter to Carroll County chief deputy prosecuting attorney Craig Parker, New Day Fellowship elders Paul Harris, Gary Pankhurst and Qynne Arnold write that the church’s leadership team never intended for Harris to be required to repay the money he took.
“Since the discovery of Darryl’s wrongful actions, the heart and desire of the leadership team at New Day Fellowship has been for Darryl to exhibit contrition, fruit of repentance and desire for reconciliation. We had also greatly hoped that Darryl would be willing to at least make an effort at restitution or communicate his desire to correct this consequential injustice. The leadership team never intended Darryl to pay back the money. We simply desired to see evidence of repentance and that it mattered to him that his actions deeply hurt a body of believers that dearly loved, and still love, him and his entire family.
“The body of believers at New Day Fellowship sincerely desires reconciliation with, and restoration of, George Darryl Harris. We harbor no unforgiveness towards him. We have not only forgiven Darryl but we fully release him to God and drop all charges we’ve personally held against him. We understand that the consequences of his crime are in the hands of the county prosecutor and the outcome of Darryl’s case has no bearing on us.”
Harris’ LinkedIn profile identifies him as the president and CEO of Wellspring Ministries NWA in Eureka Springs — a position that he’s held since February, according to his profile.