Jack C. Grizzard, former minister of Del Ray United Methodist Church in Alexandria, pleaded guilty yesterday to three felony charges of taking money from the church.
Prosecutors said in a statement filed in Alexandria Circuit Court that Grizzard told them that he personally used about $50,000 in church funds. They said Grizzard, who served the church from 1980 to 1984, faked two break-ins there to destroy financial records and conceal what happened to the money.
Described by many of his former parishioners as a warm, personable man, Grizzard was indicted Nov. 5 on 12 counts connected with the misuse of church funds, including charges of forging and passing a total of 49 checks drawn on the church account. Under a plea agreement yesterday, all but three felony charges -- grand larceny, forgery and obtaining money by false pretenses -- were dropped.
Grizzard sat in the courtroom yesterday looking as worn as his rumpled gray pin-stripe suit. When Judge Donald M. Haddock asked him if he understood that the combined maximum penalties for the charges to which he pleaded guilty could send him to the Virginia penitentiary for 50 years, Grizzard nodded and said, "Yes, sir."
Haddock then set Grizzard's sentencing for Feb. 21.
"Everybody loved him because he has a great personality," said Robert A. Trout, a former treasurer of the church. "That's why it was so hard to believe that what he really is, is just an an excellent con artist."
"It was God's money he took. I feel sorry for him," said Mary Deeters, an elderly church member who had given Grizzard $20,000 to install a new elevator in the church at 100 Windsor Ave.
Grizzard never used the money for the elevator, which Deeters had intended to be a memorial for her late husband, said Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Richard Mendelson. According to court records, the ex-minister spent Deeters' money as he wished, some of it on himself.
In order to conceal his crimes, Grizzard staged break-ins at the church, Mendelson said. "I knew it was strange that twice, just before we were scheduled for audit, the place would be broken into and my books torn up," Trout said. "This still makes me so angry. A lot of people in the church are still angry."
"It happened because we trusted him, but if you can't trust your minister . . . . " said Lonnie Rich, a church member and the attorney representing the church.
The church has filed a civil lawsuit in Alexandria against Grizzard, seeking $600,000 in damages. A trial date for that case has not yet been scheduled.
Grizzard declined comment as he walked out of the courtroom yesterday with the Rev. Thomas Gulbronson of the First Assembly of God in Alexandria. "I was his friend before and I am now. It's the Christian way," Gulbronson said. On Christmas Eve, Gulbronson said, he personally posted Grizzard's $1,000 bond.