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Rev. Phillips avoids prison in plea deal

He'll have to pay back $500,000 in fraud case

Published June 5, 2008 at 2:01 p.m.

The Rev. Acen Phillips leaves Arapahoe County Court today after pleading guilty to felony theft. He was sentenced to eight years of probation and 100 hours of community service.

Photo by George Kochaniec Jr.

The Rev. Acen Phillips leaves Arapahoe County Court today after pleading guilty to felony theft. He was sentenced to eight years of probation and 100 hours of community service.

The Rev. Acen Phillips was given a plea deal sparing him prison time because the criminal charges were difficult to prove and a conviction could not be guaranteed, a prosecutor told a judge Thursday.

The comments came as Phillips, originally charged with 12 felonies involving life insurance fraud, pleaded guilty to a single felony in Arapahoe District Court. The 73-year-old avoided prison and a separate, civil lawsuit against him was dropped.

Judge Charles Pratt ordered Phillips to pay $500,000 in restitution, serve eight years probation, and perform 100 hours of community service, which Pratt noted was mandatory. Phillips was also told to attend meetings on victim empathy and theft.

Pratt said the probation department economic crime unit would monitor Phillips to ensure he is doing all he can to repay the money.

Phillips said he could earn money from speaking engagements to help pay off the debt and asked if he could travel.

Pratt did not object, but said the probation department would have to approve.

The cases highlight a career in which Phillips has been known for controversy almost as much as for outspokenness. A review of court documents shows a string of nearly 30 civil lawsuits against him.

Most of those suits claimed that Phillips and his business associates either defaulted on loans or swindled people out of their homes and savings.

Phillips, a former pastor of southeast Denver's Mount Gilead Baptist Church, has been a self-styled fighter for the underdog.

He publicly embraced the family of Aarone Thompson after her father reported her as missing in 2005. But Aurora police quickly concluded that she was dead and that the family was complicit.

The father, Aaron Thompson, has since been charged in Aarone's death.

Phillips was originally charged with theft, attempted theft, and forgery involving allegedly fraudulent life insurance policies.

Among other things, Phillips was accused of trying to bilk AIG Life Insurance Co. out of more than $575,000 by forging signatures on policies.

The Colorado Attorney General's Office said that Phillips at one point submitted the numbers - rather than names - of people purported to be on a group life insurance policy he administered.

It was difficult to untangle those transactions and prove a crime, prosecutors said.

Also, prosecutors said it would be hard to evoke sympathy for an insurance company, and even if Phillips had been convicted he still might have received probation.

AIG still paid on what were mostly fraudulent policies, and no one was out any money except for the insurance company, according to the attorney general's office. Some people may have even received a "windfall" from AIG, Assistant Attorney General Travis Young told the court.

Phillips pleaded guilty in connection with the one policy that may have been legitimate.

After the Rev. Kenneth Davis died in an Oklahoma auto accident, Phillips did not inform widow Denoah Davis the payout was $120,000 rather than $50,000 and kept at least some of the difference.

"I would have liked to see him serve life in prison," Gail Sights, Denoah Davis' daughter and Rev. Davis' stepdaughter, said in a phone interview.

The burly Phillips, dressed in a dark suit with pinstripes, stood before the judge and said, "I recognize beyond any doubt I made some grievous errors."

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