Woman alleges church stole her identity for loan

April 22, 2011 4:14:42 PM PDT
A local woman fought back tears on Good Friday. Her bank account is drained and she claims her church duped her out of tens of thousands of dollars.

The woman is now suing the Chapel of Praise in Alief, saying the church stole her identity and left her in financial ruin.

That parishioner says when she decided to become a member here in 2005 she had to fill out a form, giving personal information including her date of birth, Social Security number and her signature. She accuses church leaders of using that to get a loan in her name.

Francisca Mena says she is in danger of losing her home because of a loan that was taken out in her name that she only recently found out existed.

"Almost crazy you know. Why? How?" she said.

She didn't know what to make of the thousands of dollars being drafted suddenly out of her checking account.

"The bank is empty. I say why?! Two days ago, I put $3,000, you know?" Mena said.

Her bank told her another bank had filed a judgment against her over a loan that hadn't been repaid. She says that loan was taken out by leaders of the Chapel of Praise church.

She's filed suit against its leaders, alleging that they took her personal information and used it to secure a loan to purchase $30,000 worth of music instruments and audio equipment.

According to the suit, when confronted, Pastor Steve Ams told Mena "not to worry because he would take care of it." Other church leaders allegedly told her they were "very sorry" and that the church would begin to repay her $500 monthly. Mena insists that has never happened.

Mena says she feels violated and that she trusted her church and its leaders.

She and her husband have three adopted children and they're foster parents to three more. Now she wonders what will happen to them if they lose the house.

Late Friday afternoon, Ams returned our calls, saying Mena was never a church member.

"The information is totally false. For a non member to bring an allegation based on a lawsuit that has not been double checked, it's not fair," he told us over the phone.

We offered Ams a chance to speak on camera but he declined.

Meanwhile, the Houston Police Department is investigating Mena's claims.

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