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Pastor accused of preying on meek through fraudulent rent arrangements

by Eric Ginsburg

by Eric Ginsburg eric@yesweekly.com

Aminister and self-professed advocate for the homeless has been accused of defrauding atrisk individuals for personal gain, including by two people who said he still owes them money in Greensboro.

Ronnie Lee Chrisp, 48, allegedly posed as a property manager, collecting security deposits and rent from people who trusted him as an advocate.

Greensboro police are actively investigating Chrisp, spokesperson Susan Danielsen said.

Chrisp once worked at Urban Ministry and has recently filed for bankruptcy twice.

Roger Fitzgerald, who collects disability, was looking for a new place to live after the house he was living in went into foreclosure. A friend put him in touch with Chrisp, whom he recognized from Urban Ministry. After seeing the apartment Chrisp was offering on Huffman Street, Fitzgerald said he provided proof of income showing how much disability assistance he received monthly, then gave a $200 cash deposit and $675 in rent.

When it came time to move in June 1, Fitzgerald said he couldn’t reach Chrisp. After several excuses from Chrisp, Fitzgerald said he looked up the property owner and found out Chrisp wasn’t authorized to lease the apartment.

After contacting the police, Fitzgerald said Chrisp began to pay him in small amounts of anywhere from $10 to $100. Fitzgerald filed fraud charges and continues to periodically meet Chrisp to receive small payments, which he said totaled less than $300 of the $875 he is owed.

“To do something like that without any remorse that I was due to be put out on [the street]… It put me in a bit of hardship,” said Fitzgerald, who had to pay an additional $875 to legally move into the apartment. “I have forgiven him in my heart but I still want my money. I did everything I had to do and he is still walking the street free and just giving me whatever he wants to give me.”

Chrisp admits he owes Fitzgerald money but said he was just trying to do whatever it took to help people in need. He said in an interview that he and his wife owned several properties in town and were going to keep helping people until God told him to stop.

Guilford County tax records show that Chrisp owns three properties in Greensboro and his wife owns a fourth, though none of them are on Huffman Street.

Dottie Simmons said she had a similar experience with Chrisp and an apartment on Huffman Street. Simmons said she moved in and was paying Chrisp rent for three months under the agreement that he would give it to the property owner.

“I was paying him and he wasn’t paying the owner of the building,” she said. “He said [Chrisp] hadn’t paid on other properties and not to give him any more money. I haven’t seen [Chrisp] since then.”

Like Fitzgerald, Simmons had to pay a new security deposit and sign a new lease, and said Chrisp was charging her $100 more for rent than the property manager was charging Chrisp. The extra money was supposed to cover utilities but they weren’t paid. Also, her lease said the apartment would have a washer and dryer that never materialized, Simmons said.

“The owner was charging him one thing and he was leasing it out to other people at higher prices, and he wasn’t even paying the owner,” Simmons said.

Chrisp worked as the assistant director of emergency assistance at Greensboro Urban Ministry for several years. Director Mike Aiken would not say why he no longer worked there but confirmed his employment ended Nov. 28, 2011.

“It seems egregious and ridiculous if all of this is true,” Aiken said. “It’s just disgusting. I hope it’s not true.”

Aiken had already heard of the claims against Chrisp. In a subsequent conversation, he said he had been advised by the organization’s lawyer not to comment further.

Chrisp is a minister at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church International, which recently closed at its Lendew Street location, and his voicemail identifies him as a bishop in the church. Chrisp would not say where or if it was reopened, saying it wasn’t relevant. Chrisp was also vice president of the Greensboro Shaw University Alumni Association in 2011.

Jenny Hudson, the office manager at the Interactive Resource Center, a homeless day center, said “quite a few” of the homeless people they serve have had problems with Chrisp.

“Unfortunately he thrived on folks that were at the bottom of the barrel,” Hudson said. “He should be ashamed of himself. It really sickens me to know that there are people out there that will take advantage of somebody so quickly and not even think about the crisis that you’re putting them in.”

Greensboro police are investigating but there are no warrants for his arrest. Danielsen said Chrisp had a lengthy arrest history but that her records didn’t show if he was convicted and said the charges were unrelated to fraud.

Chrisp’s most recent bankruptcy filing was dismissed Aug. 13. His standing trustee Anita Troxler recommended his Chapter 13 bankruptcy filing be dismissed after “the debtor failed to appear at the meeting of creditors on July 23, 2012, and has defaulted in required plan payments as of July 23, 2012,” court documents show.

In 1999, Chrisp was released after a nearly fouryear prison term for common-law robbery, conspiracy and possession of a firearm by a felon. He had previously served time after being convicted for larceny in 1995.

Shortly before his sentence ended in 1999, Chrisp was interviewed by WRAL TV while participating in a work-release program at a textile plant in Hillsborough. The payment he received for his work, WRAL reported, let Chrisp “support his three children, and pay the state-appointed lawyer who represented him.”

“What would you rather me do, sit in prison and you pay your tax dollars to take care of me, or me work and pay my own way,” the article quotes him saying.

While serving his term, Chrisp wrote a letter to the editor that was published in the News & Record calling for public campaign funding, encouraging people to mark that they support the statewide fund on their tax returns.

“Recent news stories about money scandals surrounding the state legislature and lottery have exposed the ugly, dominant role of money in politics,” Chrisp wrote. “I hope the legislature will seek ways to reform the system.”

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