TYLER, Texas — Fifty years in ministry, decades of coaching, and surviving a tumultuous childhood in foster care helped Rev. Jerome Milton became a well-known leader in the Tyler area with a reputation for helping the next generation.
He coached at Bishop Gorman Catholic School in Tyler for over two decades and just four years ago, the track at the school’s McCallum Stadium was dedicated as the Rev. Jerome Rocky Milton Track Home of Champions.
But after his arrest in October 2021, accusations of him stealing more than $30,000 from an elderly couple’s bank account for his own benefit while he had power of attorney and finances for them came to light. This accusation put his well-known status under heavy scrutiny from the community.
According to the arrest affidavit, Milton, who serves as the reverend at Open Door Bible Church in Tyler, unlawfully took money from congregation members, Wayford and Marilyn Brown, using multiple check withdrawals and ATM transactions.
In an exclusive interview with CBS19 ahead of a court hearing Friday, Milton said he didn't do anything illegal as he had legal power of attorney and was taking care of the Browns.
“I'm always being called a thief, always taking the money. I took care of Mr. and Mrs. Brown. It’s not something I asked for, not something I sought. They brought an attorney in to give me durable power of attorney,” Milton said. “I was in charge of all of their medical care, I was in charge of all of their finances and I paid bills.”
According to Milton, he’s been “hammered” by the media for seven months now, and believes he has been set up by someone. With a plea agreement hearing Friday, May 13, Milton’s not sure what might happen but says he believes the case will likely go to trial.
Ms. Brown has Alzheimer’s and she needs care around the clock, while her husband, who has since passed away, was completely bedridden due to an injury, according to their son Darryl Brown.
The Browns’ son said Milton left just 28 cents in his parents’ bank accounts. He has since taken guardianship over his parents, which supersedes power of attorney.
“It took me months with my own money to fix these bank accounts,” Darryl Brown said. “He stayed in hotels. We had this guy doing a number on them because they really truly believed he was a man of God. But no man of God would ever do that to anybody. Nobody.”
The document states Milton used the funds he took for car payments and hotel rooms in Brownwood.
Using his hindsight now, Darryl said he wishes that he had gotten involved in his parents’ finances sooner. His father, who was in a great deal of pain, died in October.
“He couldn't do anything, because he just laid in bed all day. And the people who were taking care of him weren't medical professionals. They were just church members, and so they kept him as well as they could,” Darryl Brown explained.
Darryl Brown suggested that Milton encouraging his father to not go to rehab facility after his injury contributed to Wayford Brown’s decline in health.
“Sometimes the good people dress up as bad people. Sometimes the bad people dress up as good people,” Darryl Brown said. “As far as everything goes, you can't replace any money that's been stolen. He did something that any true man of God would not do. You can't hurt the elderly (and) you can't hurt kids.”
Local criminal defense lawyer Bobby Mims said if a person holds the power of attorney, they’re obligated under the law and in the contract itself, is to act in the best interest of that person, not themselves.
With over 250 jury trials under his belt and extensive knowledge of the law, Mims said a power of attorney for an elderly person is commonly someone in the family or another trusted individual.
As the person in charge of the Browns’ finances, Milton said he never received a salary, but he selected the paid caregivers who took care of the Browns.
“I want to be clear on camera, never today, tomorrow or ever have I stolen or robbed anything from Mr. and Mrs. Brown,” Milton said. “They were clear to everybody that their pastor who they trusted and loved was who they entrusted to be their power of attorney for their business and their medical.”
Milton admitted that while he may not have done everything perfectly as power of attorney, he tried to do what the Browns wanted to the best of his ability, such as home renovations.
“They wanted the house painted, I got the house painted, they wanted the fence built, I built the fence, they wanted the back houses remodeled, and I got it remodeled,” Milton said.
Darryl Brown claimed his parents were overcharged for those renovations.
“None of that money that he stole from my parents went anywhere renovation,” Darryl Brown said. “He charged my parents that little portable house over there. He sold it for $6,000. This is what he charged him for that portable house and fixing the fence. He also fixed the fence for $6,000. There’s no way it costs that much.”
Milton claimed he was like a “godson” to the Browns.
The Tyler police investigation began when Darryl Brown heard two church members say Milton was misusing his parents’ bank cards and getting them to sign blank checks.
Milton recalled coming to the Browns’ home one morning to find a detective and their son. Milton told the detective that the Browns said with sound mind that Milton was innocent.
Wayford Brown’s health issues started in October 2020 and Milton said he assisted him in receiving home care rather than at a nursing center. Milton said he interceded so that Brown could home and live out his days with respectability.
“It was not something that I sought. We thought that home health was going to take over. Two or three weeks turned into almost nine months,” Milton explained.
At one point, Milton said he was asked to be interviewed at the police station, which he compiled. But an hour after he left, officers requested he go to McDonald’s, where he was arrested.
“If you want it to arrest me, why didn't you call me to come back to the south police station? Let me turn myself in. But you lured me or had me lured to come to a public place at prime time, big time,” he said.
While getting booked into the Smith County Jail in October, he added that he was attacked and had to be hospitalized.
He also said his bonds were set unfairly at $320,000 when he was arrested. Former students, parents and church members helped him achieve the bond amount to be released from jail.
“Nobody should have to go through this. That's innocent. I had durable power of attorney. I was legal. I did not do anything illegal,” Milton said. “You can't call me a thief. You can't charge me with theft.”
According to the arrest affidavit, multiple checks were written to Milton using the Browns’ account with memos like “bills;” “church tithe;” “church donation;” or “pastor aide.” As the check writing to Milton continued, several checks ultimately deemed the couple’s accounts as having insufficient funds.
A joint account, which had both Milton and the Browns’ names on it, was used for payment toward Milton’s 2011 Chevrolet Suburban. In one instance, Milton used the man’s debit card to make a car payment at a tire shop for his vehicle, the affidavit stated.
Regarding the car payment, Milton said that Wayford Brown gave him permission to use their account with the knowledge that it was less than $1,000.
Darryl Brown said Milton stole funds from his parents’ former employers and his mother’s inheritance. He recalled his father calling last year saying that he would send him $1,000 through Milton, but when three weeks passed by he became suspicious.
When he called Milton, he told Darryl that the money would be sent soon. It ultimately took several weeks before Darryl Brown received the money, leading him to believe that Milton took some of the money he was stealing and gave it to him.
“I have forgiven this man. I'm not going to forget what he did. But I want justice. I want him to suffer for what he did. And I don't think anybody sent him up,” Darryl Brown said. “My dad is gone. My mom is here. And I'm willing to take care of her as best I can.”
In the affidavit regarding Rev. Milton's arrest, police said his son, Jerome Anthony Milton, was seen making ATM withdrawals from the elderly man’s bank account. The younger Milton was indicted in March on a credit or debit card abuse against the elderly charge.
“He (my son) has never done anything to anybody, it hurts my heart. It just hurt my heart. How low can you get? What is this all about? To take a man's child who is innocent, who's trying to make his own life,” Milton said.
Milton said he has no idea what his son benefitted from because he just went to the ATM without receiving a dime.
Rev. Milton told an officer that Wayford Brown liked to keep cash in his wallet as a reason for the cash withdrawals, according to the affidavit. However, Darryl Brown explained that it was a lie.
Overall, Milton called the arrest and accusations “a satanic attack” and it has been stressful for his family, friends and supporters.
“To be attacked this way. See, Satan wants to get the one that he thinks has the most impact on people, impact on people's future lives,” Milton said. “And I believe that I, I've been attacked, that Satan is using people or this situation or circumstance, you know, to come after me.”
Also noted in the affidavit, police wrote Milton was asked to leave Greater New Pleasant Hill Baptist Church around 2018 by church membership because of “his handling of finances and other suspicious behavior on his part.”
For 32 years, Milton was the pastor at Greater New Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, where he later retired. In 2018, he came out of retirement to lead the Open Door Bible Church in Tyler. However, Milton said he left that church in better shape than it was.
Milton is charged with property theft between $30,000 and $150,000 (against an elderly individual) and misappropriation of fiduciary or financial property between $150,000 and $300,000 (enhanced).
Smith County District Attorney Jacob Putman said financial abuse against the elderly is something that happens often and goes underreported.
“As you can imagine, especially when it comes to finances, when people get older, they don't always have their full mental capacity, and that allows people to take advantage of them,” Putman said.
With a plea hearing, Putman said Milton can choose to say he’s guilty or prove his innocence through a jury trial.