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Father and son pastors sentenced to prison in OC church theft

June 12, 2009 |  4:37 pm

Father and son pastors were each sentenced to two years in state prison today for stealing $3.1 million in church funds to buy luxury cars, time shares and golf club memberships.

Richard Wimberly Cunningham, 76, of Moreno Valley and Philip Ladd Cunningham, 52, of Laurinburg, N.C. pleaded guilty to felony grand theft and fraud charges, according to the Orange County district attorney’s office.

The father and son stole the money from Calvary Baptist Yorba Linda Church and School, where both worked as pastors. They used it to buy time shares in Hawaii and Palm Springs, golf club memberships and luxury cars, including a Cadillac, according to prosecutors.

The Cunninghams controlled eight church bank accounts and between May 1, 2001, and April 30, 2006, wrote checks to themselves, used church-issued credit cards for personal expenses and shifted money between accounts to avoid detection, authorities said.

Philip Cunningham also pleaded guilty to forgery for faking the signature of another associate pastor to write fraudulent checks that required two signatures. Church members uncovered the theft after noticing a discrepancy in some financial records.

Prosecutors said the pastors have paid $3.1 million in restitution to the church.

--Tony Barboza