Montreal

Montreal pastor Lezoka arrested in fraud case

Mwinda Lezoka, a Montreal evangelical pastor facing a long list of creditors, has been arrested in a $978,000 fraud case involving a zoo.

Police find funds funnelled from zoo to minister's account

Last summer, Mwinda Lezoka's parishoners claimed they loaned him hundreds of thousands of dollars for the benefit of the church, but never saw any returns. ((CBC))
Mwinda Lezoka, a Montreal evangelical pastor facing a long list of creditors, has been arrested and charged along with two others in a fraud case involving a zoo.

Quebec provincial police said the three were arrested in connection with a $978,000 fraud involving Parc Safari in Hemmingford, Que.

Lezoka, 47, the minister of Bethel Christian Community Church in Montreal's Ahuntsic neighbourhood, made headlines last summer when he faced a dozen lawsuits filed by former parishioners, contractors hired to do work for him and Parc Safari.

Parishoners claimed they lent the Lezoka hundreds of thousands of dollars for the benefit of the church but never saw any returns.

On Tuesday police said between 2005 and 2008, funds were transferred 37 times from the Parc Safari bank account to several outside accounts, including Actions Béthel du Canada Inc. Police said the transactions were not properly authorized.

"The transfers appear to have been made by the accountant that had been hired by Park Safari. The signatures appeared to have been forged," said Sureté du Quebec spokesperson Joyce Kemp.

Police said the Parc Safari accountant Ruth Eugene, 38, is one of Lezoka's parishioners.

Eugene was arrested and charged with fraud Tuesday along with Lezoka and Jasmin St-Louis, 43.

'When the chips came down'

Police said Parc Safari managers suspected fraud last year when they received a bounced cheque in the mail. It was written out to a company they did not recognize, and it was written from the zoo's trust account.

Mwinda Lezoka is the minister of Bethel Christian Community Church in Montreal's Ahuntsic neighbourhood. ((CBC))
Park director Jean-Pierre Ranger said when the cheque was found, he confronted Eugene.

"There was no answer … that is when the chips came down," said Ranger.

Parc Safari then filed a lawsuit against Lezoka and a corporation registered under his name for almost $1 million for perceived fraud.

Ranger said the new criminal charges don't make him feel any better about the money that was lost.

"That is not something that I can rejoice in. … our accountant has a family, they have children and I find it extremely sad," he said.

Lezoka and his co-accused will be back in court on Apr. 8.