Pastor allegedly paid for trips on church’s dime

Pastor Gary Petersen. (Courtesy Wellspring Church video podcast)

HUDSONVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) – A West Michigan pastor who is facing embezzlement charges allegedly used money from his former church to pay for personal vacations without the church’s knowledge, according to court documents.

On Tuesday, the Ottawa County Prosecutor’s Office authorized two counts of embezzlement between $1,000 and $20,000 against Gary Petersen, the current pastor of The Rock Church in Grandville, and former pastor at Wellspring Church in Hudsonville.

The charges stem from Petersen’s time at Wellspring, where his departure in 2013 led to complaints and an investigation by the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office.

According to court documents, Peterson is accused of opening an American Express credit card at Costco in the name of the church that only he was authorized to use, without the knowledge of the church’s financial committee.

In addition, Petersen is accused of using the card to pay for a trip he took with his wife in 2010, which included a cruise and airfare that totaled $1,416, the documents show.

In 2012, a church member offered Petersen a stay at Colorado resort, court documents show. When Petersen got there, he allegedly complained it was too small and said he wanted to upgrade. He allegedly charged it to the card  for $1,568.

According to court documents, Petersen then used the church’s bank account to pay off the charges on the card, without the church’s knowledge.

The detective investigating the case found all of the payments for the card were made over the phone or online from the church’s bank account. If Petersen had used a check, it would have had to be signed by members of the church financial committee.

Tuesday evening, Wellspring Church released a statement regarding the allegations against Petersen, saying it found the former pastor had been “using church money for personal expenditures.

Petersen is expected to be arraigned on the charges on April 23 in Hudsonville District Court.

A sign on the door of Petersen’s home Wednesday said he would not be providing comment to the media.

A sign at the home of Pastor Gary Petersen, who faces embezzlement charges. (April 16, 2014)
A sign at the home of Pastor Gary Petersen, who faces embezzlement charges. (April 16, 2014)

24 Hour News 8’s Heather Walker contributed to this report.

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