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Brooklyn's 'Bling Bishop' Lamor Whitehead denies stealing from parishioner's mother on day 1 of fraud trial

Brooklyn Bishop Lamor Whitehead is on trial for federal fraud charges after prosecutors say he lied, cheated and stole to fund his lavish lifestyle.

The federal fraud trial of Brooklyn's "Bling Bishop" Lamor Whitehead began Monday afternoon with prosecutors arguing he lied, cheated and stole to fund his lavish lifestyle.

Whitehead, 47, a Rolls-Royce-driving bishop, has pleaded not guilty to wire fraud, attempted extortion and making false statements to the FBI.  

"This is a case about fraud, about a conman who told lie after lie to victim after victim," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Greenwood told jurors during her opening statement at the start of Whitehead's trial. 

The typically ostentatious religious leader sat in a Manhattan courtroom wearing a dark suit and listening attentively as prosecutors laid out their case against him. Whitehead is accused of defrauding the mother of one of his parishioners out of her retirement savings, attempting to defraud and extort a local businessman, and lying to the FBI.  

NYC ‘BLING BISHOP’ ACCUSED OF DEFRAUDING PARISHONER OF RETIREMENT MONEY TO FUND LUXURY LIFESTYLE: INDICTMENT

Greenwood said Whitehead’s goal was to get money and he had expensive tastes. "The defendant was willing to lie, cheat and steal to keep up the appearance of wealth," she said. 

The jury listened as the prosecutor described how Whitehead allegedly targeted a single mother. She said he convinced the woman to give him $90,000 of her retirement savings and believed that Whitehead was going to assist her in finding a home.

Instead, prosecutors say, the defendant spent the money on himself – on Louis Vuitton bags and payments for a BMW, among other things.

Prosecutors also said Whitehead leveraged his friendship with New York City Mayor Eric Adams to extort cash from a local businessman. Whitehead is accused of promising favors from Adams in exchange for $500,000. He allegedly promised Brandon Belmonte, a body shop owner, that Adams would "do whatever I need."

NYC BISHOP ROBBED OF $1M IN JEWELRY MID-SERMON FILES $20M LAWSUITS AGAINST SOCIAL MEDIA CRITICS CLAIMING HOAX

The bishop and the mayor became friends while Adams served as Brooklyn's borough president before he was elected to lead the city. Asked about the allegations last week, Adams told reporters legal filings by the prosecution "stated that clearly [Whitehead] did not have authorization and there was no connectivity to the actions of [the] mayor or borough president."

Belmonte complained to federal authorities, who opened an investigation into Whitehead in 2022 that led to his arrest about six months later. 

Defense attorney Dawn Florio, enunciating into the mic, told jurors there is a "lack of evidence" and that the government’s case has "holes in it."  

Florio denied the charges against her client and said the woman was cheated by her own son, who borrowed the money to buy a home for himself, leaving his mother with nothing. She also said the allegations of extorting a local body shop owner are not true, and that it is really a civil dispute between the two men, not a criminal matter. 

NYC ‘BLING BISHOP’ FACES TRIAL FOR FRAUD CHARGES PROSECUTORS SAY FUELD LAVISH LIFESTYLE

Florio urged the jurors to assess the credibility of the witnesses and to keep an open mind because their "mind must be like a parachute."

Whitehead has been free on $500,000 bail since his arrest, which came only months after he was the victim of a robbery when $1 million in jewelry was stolen from him by gunmen who surprised him during a church service.

Among pretrial evidentiary rulings, the judge agreed to exclude mention of Whitehead’s criminal conviction for identity theft and grand larceny, which resulted in a five-year prison stint, although it could be brought up if he decides to testify.

Whitehead became a bishop when he founded the Leaders of Tomorrow International Ministries in 2013. 

The Brooklyn preacher owns a $1.6 million home in Paramus, New Jersey, and an apartment in Hartford, Connecticut. 

Whitehead has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.  The trial is expected to last about a week and a half.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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