INDIANAPOLIS — An Indianapolis church that was swindled out of $400,000 intended to help the congregation rebuild after a fire instead is fighting for its survival.
Bell's Chapel Church is facing foreclosure at year's end, and many members have left after Hrond Arman Gasparian's promises of helping them secure a grant to rebuild turned out to be an elaborate fraud.
Gasparian, 67, of Fishers, was convicted in June on 10 counts of wire fraud after a three-day jury trial before U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker.
Now, church leaders are pleading for help.
"Mr. Gasparian said to me, 'I'm committed to God to do this project.' And that's what really bothered me. On more than one occasion he said he was committed to God," Bishop Adrienne Holmes told the Indianapolis Star . "The Bible says, 'Will a man rob God?' The answer is yes, because Mr. Gasparian robbed God. But he not only robbed God. He robbed this community.
"Now, I just need somebody to help us."
Bell's Chapel has served the community on the city's northeast side since 1925. The old church was destroyed in a November 2008 fire that went unsolved, Holmes said.
Gasparian told members looking to rebuild the church that he would be able to secure them a $3 million grant but would first need $365,000 for earnest money and a $35,000 nonrefundable fee to broker the deal.
"We searched ... we couldn't find anything negative about him," Holmes said. "After we met with him we prayed, and we just gave him our money."
Gasparian told church officials he would put the money in an escrow account and return the refundable portion after securing the grant. But court documents say he instead spent the $400,000 and never secured the grant.
Meanwhile, construction was already underway on the new church. Half-erected steel that was intended to be the church's framework is all that stands on the empty lot now. The property is for sale, and the church has until December before it goes into foreclosure.
The theft also broke the spirit of the congregation, dropping its congregation from 175 members to 30 who meet at another church.
"It's been really difficult on the church. A lot of the members have left because they lost faith," Holmes said. "Because of the storm that I'm in it's been really hard for me to maintain my faith. But I just believe that God is going to bring us out victorious."
Gasparian faces up to 20 years in federal prison and fines of up to $250,000 for each of the 10 counts of his conviction.