SMITH COUNTY, Texas — A South African man has been sentenced to prison for stealing from a local church.
According to the Smith County District Attorney’s Office, Livingstone Zitha, 52, was was charged with scamming a Tyler-area church into providing “love offerings” of several thousand dollars for his ministry.
Zitha claimed to pastor a 5,000 member church in Johannesburg, South Africa, and he also said he ran a large orphanage.
“According to Zitha’s promotional materials, a donation of $250 would allow his ministry to feed a child for one year,” the Smith County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement. “While Zitha was described as a captivating personality and dynamic preacher, none of the money he raised ever made it to any ministry.”
Church members said they became suspicious of Zitha after he stayed with the church for two months and was having an increasingly hard time giving precise details about the ministry.
Smith County prosecutors called two United States Secret Service agents from South Africa to the stand who told the jury that Zitha’s ministries were fraudulent.
“A local pastor from Springs, South Africa also testified that he had never heard of Zitha, his church, or his orphanage,” the DA’s office said.
Authorities say Zitha’s bank records showed he actually spent the love offerings on fast food, coffee, car washes and other personal expenses.
“He ate 21 children’s yearly meals in less than one month, and that is sickening,” prosecutors told the jury in closing argument.
The DA’s office is asking residents to exercise extreme caution before donating money to anything related to Zitha’s active non-profit organization – Livingstone Zitha Ministries.
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