CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — A well-known Champaign pastor has pleaded guilty in federal court to using federal funds for his own benefit instead of the community programs the funds were meant for.
Lekevie Johnson, 47, pleaded guilty on Friday to charges of federal program misapplication, student loan misapplication and making false bankruptcy statements. He faces up to 20 years in prison for these crimes and a maximum fine of $500,000.
Johnson was active in the community for years prior to his guilty plea, coaching football at Champaign Centennial High School and speaking out against violence. He was formerly the pastor of Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, also known as Jericho Missionary Baptist Church, on Bloomington Road in Champaign. Between 2012 and 2019, he operated a not-for-profit corporation, Life Line Champaign, Inc. and ran a program meant to provide summer enrichment programs for low-income students in the Garden Hills neighborhood.
Johnson was given funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for this program, but federal prosecutors accused Johnson of misusing almost $26,000 of these funds for his own benefit, which included gambling at casinos among other misuses. Johnson is also accused of misusing more than $31,000 given to him as a student loan to attend Liberty University’s online Master of Art program; he had previously certified that he would only use that money for educational purposes.
Prosecutors also accused him of falsely filing for bankruptcy. Johnson was said to have filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in January of 2020, claiming in his petition that he received only $43,000 from his church in 2019 when, in fact, he received much more. He testified under oath on March 5 of that year that he had disclosed all the payments he received from the church and had no control over the church’s finances; prosecutors said this was not true.
Johnson is on release pending sentencing on April 10, 2023.
Editor’s note: the non-profit Lifeline, Inc. was a recipient of funds from our station’s Victory Over Violence program. The project we supported was not involved with this case.