The Brooklyn bishop who said he was robbed during a sermon is answering questions for the first time about how he funds his lavish lifestyle, and he addressed a lawsuit he is facing regarding thousands of dollars he given by a parishioner.
“Everybody wanted to talk about the bling-bling bishop that the media portrayed" said Bishop Lamor Whitehead.
Police said Whitehead, known for his close friendship with New York City Mayor Eric Adams, was robbed during a sermon on July 24 that was live-streamed online. Whitehouse says he and his family were held at gunpoint as three masked men stole at least $400,000 worth of jewelry.
Get Tri-state area news and weather forecasts to your inbox. Sign up for NBC New York newsletters.
Whitehead was heard sermonizing about keeping faith in the face of grave adversity, moments before the robbers entered the church, located above a Haitian restaurant in Canarsie. He’s then seen dropping to his hands and knees and repeatedly saying, “alright, alright,” before a man holding a gun and wearing a black sweatshirt enters the frame.
The man, who was also wearing a black face mask, is then seen approaching Whitehead, who was hiding behind a gold-colored lectern, and stuffing the bishop’s jewelry into his pockets. Another man, dressed in similar garb, is then seen heading toward Whitehead, lingering near him for a few minutes and then running off.
Whitehead said in a video posted to Instagram that the robbers ripped his collar off to grab his chain and held a gun to his infant daughter’s face while stealing his wife’s jewelry. In all, police said that the robbers made off with a woman's wedding ring, earrings, Rolex and Cavalier watches, a man's gold chain and wedding ring, a Cuban chain, a diamond and emerald cross, and other church items.
In a video posted to Instagram in the days after the robbery, Whitehead said he felt a “demonic force” enter the church and wasn’t sure if the gunmen “wanted to shoot the church up or if they were just coming for a robbery.” He said he was thankful no one was hurt, and earlier in the week offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the robbers.
As for the suspects, police said they don't have a lot to go on. They don't have a clear description of the men because they were wearing masks. No arrests have yet been made.
It was an unholy heist that made headlines around the world, mostly due to Whitehead's notably flashy lifestyle. He can often be seen driving around the Big Apple in his Rolls Royce.
But on Friday, the pastor pushed back hard against criticism on social media that he had something to do with the robbery. The bishop acknowledges that he wears high-end clothing and drives luxury cars, but says he shouldn’t be judged on his appearance. He says has multiple streams of income and does not get a church salary.
“I wear what I wear to encourage people, not laugh at people. My community work speaks for itself,” he said at a press conference. "My wife hasn't stopped crying yet, my daughter hasn't stopped crying, my members haven't stopped crying. No one is empathizing with my church."
Whitehead is also facing potential financial issues linked to his failed 2021 campaign for Brooklyn borough president. Campaign finance board records show two loans, including one from a woman named Josette Bayoro for $150,000 that has not been repaid.
State election law says loans must be repaid before Election Day, or they are considered contributions. The loan in this case would far exceed the $1,500 contribution limit for individuals.
When questioned about that money that allegedly has not been repaid, Whitehead's press person tried to stop the press conference and that question from being answered. But Whitehead proceeded to answer the question anyways.
“That’s more of a legal question. What you just stated is inaccurate, I’ll leave it there,” he said.
Whitehead’s attorney later told News 4 that he had no comment, and that would have to speak with his client.
Whitehead also responded to a lawsuit filed by a parishioner in Sept. 2021, in which a woman alleges the pastor convinced her to give nearly her entire life’s savings, promising he would help her buy a home despite her bad credit history. According to the lawsuit obtained by NBC New York, the woman wrote a $90,000 check to Whitehead in Nov. 2020.
After months went by, the complaint alleges Whitehead told the woman he treated her investment as a donation to his failed campaign for Brooklyn borough president, and that he wasn’t obligated to pay it back.
When asked about the lawsuit Friday, Whitehead only called it a “fictitious claim against me, so we gained a victory today.”
On Friday. a judge denied the woman’s motion for “default judgment” for Whitehead’s failure to answer the complaint, finding there wasn’t proof of service. Whitehead’s attorney said that his client doesn’t believe he received it, but they will oppose these actions on all merits and he is confident they will prevail.