Officials at Montrose Baptist Church in Rockville have told the congregation that a company set up by its former senior pastor, the Rev. Ray Hope, owes the church's school more than $580,000 and that the case has been turned over to legal authorities.
Hope, 46, resigned as pastor in September after the church's governing council questioned him about his involvement in the company, which recruited foreign students to Montrose Christian School and collected fees from their parents.
Church officials allege that the recruiting organization has failed to reimburse the school for the cost of the students' education.
At a Dec. 11 meeting, council members told the congregation that Hope had not lived up to the terms of a severance agreement that called for the school to be reimbursed, said church spokesman and associate pastor Sandy Adams Jr.
"We have turned it over to the authorities to see if there is any criminal wrongdoing," said Montrose executive pastor Mark Hamilton.
Adams and Hamilton said in interviews that they were asked by the investigating agency not to reveal its name because that could hinder the probe. They said that information also was withheld from the congregation.
Hope, who pastored the 2,000-member church for six years, did not return several phone calls seeking comment on the church council's allegations.
According to church officials, Hope set up the recruiting company, Maryland International Student Association, without informing the church. They said the association charged a fee of about $13,000 per student.
Most of the foreign students were South Korean, and their parents were told to wire the money to a bank account in Baton Rouge, La., Hamilton said.
The church has calculated that it is owed $83,000 for the 2000-01 school year and more than $500,000 for the 2001-02 term, Hamilton said. The school, adjacent to the church at 5100 Randolph Rd., has 550 students in kindergarten through high school. About 50 of the students are from outside the United States.
Although Hope told the church council that the recruiting company was set up through "agents" who live in Louisiana, he has failed to provide any more information about those agents, Hamilton said. "Ray has been unwilling to cooperate," he said. "We don't even know their names. They may not exist at all."
The church officials also said they have not received an adequate explanation from Hope about where he got $150,000 to buy the Shiloh Conference and Retreat Center in Hagerstown, Md., which he purchased early this year from the Hagerstown YMCA. They said Hope told the church council in September that he intended to use the center to house foreign students for the first year they were in the United States and learning English.
In 1999, Hope and his brother, Richard W. Hope, settled a 1991 Securities and Exchange Commission complaint "without admitting or denying" allegations that they and 15 others had defrauded investors of $20 million.
"This is not a period of happiness" for Montrose, Adams said. "This is a sad time for a man that many people cared for. But on the flip side, our church is doing very well. . . . We are a unified church."
Staff writer Bill Broadway contributed to this report.