Mac Hammond's megachurch will give back some Ponzi cash

TV preacher Mac Hammond's Living Word Christian Center megachurch has concluded that it can't make the legal case for holding onto a multimillion dollar donation from a Ponzi schemer, and it's time to render unto Caesar.

The church had argued that it shouldn't have to turn $2.5 million over to a court-appointed receiver because the "out-of-state, sophisticated investors" who threw in with convicted fraudster Gerard Cellette were out of pocket.

And the judge handling the case has said there's no evidence Living Word knew the massive donation was tainted.

Still, church spokeswoman Amy Rotenberg told the Star Tribune today that "the law is against us, and we are going to do as the judge ordered."

She would not, however, divulge the exact sum to be returned.

Cellette came clean to prosecutors in March about the $56 million he defrauded from investors. He 's to be sentenced in October on 36 counts of securities fraud.

Here's the official statement from the church:

Living Word Christian Center reached an agreement today with the receiver, subject to court approval, to settle claims brought against it by investors in the Gerard Cellette Ponzi scheme. Mr. Cellette admitted and plead guilty to having conducted a Ponzi scheme beginning in 2004 and made contributions to the church while conducting the scheme. We are heartened that the Judge found "Living Word handled Cellette's contributions in accordance with its general practices and procedures. It is undisputed that Living Word accepted these funds in good faith and honesty in fact." Even though the disputed money was innocently received by Living Word and legitimately spent for ministry purposes, Living Word has agreed to reimbursement procedures and will not pursue further legal action.

Living Word has immense respect for the American justice system, including when the law is not in our favor. Like many other charities and faith organizations that innocently accepted charitable funds that later turned out to be fruits of the crimes of others, Living Word was an unwitting victim. Nonetheless, Living Word is committed to doing what's right, and in this case that means settling this matter in the best interests of our congregants and in furtherance of our church's mission. The settlement will not adversely affect its continuing ministry and operations.

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