TYLER, Texas — A longtime Tyler pastor, coach and community figure will serve six months in the county jail and 10 years' probation after pleading guilty to stealing from an elderly couple, his former church and a local nonprofit.
Through a plea deal Friday, Rev. Jerome Milton, who leads Open Door Bible Church in Tyler, admitted to using bank transfers and credit cards to steal from two elderly congregation members as well as stealing from the previous church he led and the East Texas Communities Foundation.
During the hearing in the 114th District Court, Judge Austin Reeve Jackson went over the plea deal, saying that Milton will serve 180 days in the Smith County Jail and 10 years' probation.
Milton told Jackson he was guilty of property theft worth $30,000 to $150,000 (against an elderly individual), money laundering and enhanced property theft worth $30,000 to $150,000.
His case was previously set to go to trial this upcoming Monday, which he gave up through the guilty plea.
Once released from the county jail, Milton will have a hearing in February to address restitution payments, prosecutors said.
Police documents obtained in October 2021 state Rev. Milton unlawfully took money from congregation members, Wayford and Marilyn Brown, using multiple check withdrawals and ATM transactions while he was serving as their power of attorney and finances.
The document states Milton used the funds he took for car payments and hotel rooms.
In a previous interview with CBS19 in May, Milton denied doing anything illegal as he had legal power of attorney and was taking care of the Browns.
The Browns’ son Darryl Brown said Milton left just 28 cents in his parents’ bank accounts.
According to the indictments, Milton took between $30,000 and $150,000 from the East Texas Communities Foundation and Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church (now named Greater New Pleasant Hill Baptist Church) from Feb. 2, 2017 to Jan. 5, 2018.
In the indictment for the money laundering charge, Milton is accused of transferring the proceeds from theft, misapplication of fiduciary property, forgery and credit card abuse between bank accounts for just under four years (February 2017 to October 2021).
For 32 years, Milton was the pastor at Greater New Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, where he later retired. He later came out of retirement to lead the Open Door Bible Church.
Milton was coach at Bishop Gorman Catholic School in Tyler for over two decades. He led the school’s boys’ and girls’ track and field teams to 10 TAPPS state championships, including eight straight from 1999 to 2006.
In 2018, the track at the school’s McCallum Stadium was dedicated as the Rev. Jerome Rocky Milton Track Home of Champions.
Previous police documents mentioned 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.”
However, Milton in a CBS19 interview said he left Greater New Pleasant Hill Baptist in better shape than it was.
In an affidavit related to Milton's October arrest, Texas Bank and Trust records for Milton showed he deposited two checks totaling $5,000 written to him from an American State Bank account named Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church.
Kermit Lane, a deacon with Greater New Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, said the church did not write Milton those checks or any since he left.
Lane said Greater New Pleasant never had a bank account with American State Bank. He also told police the check signatures were from Milton’s personal secretary while at the church, who died early last year, the affidavit read.
The affidavit shows that Lane told police the document Milton produced claiming he had authority to open bank accounts for the church was false.