PORTLAND, Maine — The former pastor of a Brunswick church appeared Wednesday in U.S. District Court on charges that he conspired with others to have his wife paid for work he did so that the minister would not lose his disability benefits.
Carroll Freemont Pennell, 68, of Cushing, Texas, is charged with conspiracy to commit Social Security fraud and theft of government funds. Pennell allegedly received nearly $150,000 in illegal benefits between February 1999 and August 2010 when he converted to Social Security retirement benefits.
He was arrested in Texas and released July 29 on personal recognizance bail after appearing in federal court in Beaumont, Texas. The circumstances surrounding his arrest have not been made public.
Pennell was ordered to appear in federal court in Portland on Wednesday but was not asked to enter pleas to the charges because he has not yet been indicted by a grand jury, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. U.S. Magistrate Judge John H. Rich III continued Pennell’s personal recognizance bail.
The Word of God Fellowship Church of Brunswick was founded in 1994 and affiliated with the International Word of God Fellowship, headquartered in Longview, Texas. Pennell was pastor from the time the church was founded until he resigned and moved to Texas in 2011, according to the complaint.
“As pastor of the Word of God Fellowship Church of Brunswick, Maine, Carroll Pennell was spiritual leader of the church, and guide in all areas of church life,” the complaint said. “He conducted religious services on average three times per week. He was president of the corporation. He appointed its board of directors and chaired all regular and special board meetings and business meetings. He had final responsibility and decision making authority in the matters of the church.”
Until October 1997, Pennell also worked in the shipping department of Grumbacker Brush Co. in Lisbon Falls. His wife, Glenna Pennell, worked for the same company until it went out of business in 2002.
At the church, she performed the functions of a traditional pastor’s wife, such as teaching Sunday school classes, producing the church newsletter and helping to run the church’s television ministry after it was created in 2001, according to the complaint. She also regularly attended board meetings.
In February 1999, the Social Security Administration that the previous year had denied Pennell disability benefits reversed itself and awarded him a lump sum for benefits from April 1998 to February 1999, the complaint said. In May 1999, the board voted to pay Glenna Pennell $300 per week as co-pastor.
“Carroll Pennell instructed church treasurers to issue paychecks to his wife Glenna so as not to interfere with his obtaining and maintaining his Social Security benefits,” the complaint said. “The work that Carroll and Glenna Pennell performed for the Word of God Fellowship Church did not change.”
In June 2002, Pennell reported in a periodic review of his disability benefits that “the only activities he participated in were church fellowship suppers and listening to gospel singing groups,” the complaint said.
If convicted, Pennell faces up to 10 years in federal prison on the theft charge and up to five years in prison on the conspiracy charge. He also could be fined up to $250,000 on each count and be ordered to pay $146,829 in restitution to the Social Security Administration.