Mar 14, 2016

“You were brainwashed spiritually,” judge says, sparing fraud conspirator jail time

Eric Hartley
The Virginian-Pilot
March 11, 2016
She didn’t steal the money for herself. She did it to feel closer to God.
For 2½ years, Bobbie Hillman falsified real estate settlement forms as part of a scheme with two co-conspirators. They tricked banks out of more than $531,000.
But Hillman pocketed not a cent, a federal investigation found.
Instead, the Virginia Beach woman funneled the illegal profits to two fellow members of Wave Church. Hillman said in court Friday that she thought the money was helping the church, which had made her feel love and acceptance long missing from her life.
“I didn’t do it for the money,” Hillman said, dabbing her eyes with tissues at times as she spoke.
After her testimony, a federal judge sentenced her to probation and a year on home detention, rejecting a prosecutor’s request to jail her for six to 12 months.
U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen said the case was unlike other theft schemes that end up in her courtroom.
“Normally it’s greed, greed, greed, greed, greed,” the judge told Hillman. “And that’s not what it is. You’re seeking love and spiritual validation.”
Hillman, 47, pleaded guilty in December to a conspiracy charge that carries up to five years in prison. While on probation, she and her two co-defendants will have to pay restitution to the banks.
Hillman said she met one of the conspirators, Ben Julian, through their work. She was president of Commonwealth Title & Abstract, the company she and her husband ran, while Julian owned a real estate investment firm.
Through Julian, Hillman met Jared Williams. The two men bought homes through “short sales,” transactions in which a property is sold for less than is owed on the mortgage.
Hillman also started going to Wave Church in Virginia Beach, where Julian and Williams were members. In court, Hillman and her husband, John Hook, testified the church helped fill a void left in her after a troubled childhood that included physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
Hook said he stopped going because he came to realize Wave was mostly “a money-funneling organization.”
The church has three tiers of members: the Army of Faithful Believers, Centurions and Kingdom People. They’re ranked based on how much they give to the church’s foundation each year, with those who give “$7,500 – $1M+,” as the church website puts it, deemed Kingdom People. That’s on top of tithes and weekly offerings.
Hillman said she believed the money was going to the church’s building fund.
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