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Former missionary pleads guilty to wire fraud

RICHMOND, Va. (BP) — Former Southern Baptist missionary Brady Nurse pleaded guilty Oct. 21 in a federal court to fraudulently obtaining approximately $300,000 in mission funds over a period of five years while working as a logistics and business coordinator for the International Mission Board in Portugal.

Nurse, 37, who resigned as a missionary in January, could face up to 20 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and an order to make full restitution of the money he took. Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 21, 2015, by U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer.

Nurse and his wife Andrea were appointed IMB missionaries in March 2006. His wire fraud activity was discovered earlier this year by the mission board’s internal auditing procedures. It was reported by the board’s internal auditor and general counsel to the FBI, which began a months-long investigation resulting in federal charges against the Montana native. Nurse’s plea agreement was announced Oct. 21 by Dana J. Boente, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia in Richmond, Va., and FBI special agent Adam S. Lee after it was accepted by United States Magistrate Judge David J. Novak.

Nurse admitted in a statement filed with his plea agreement that he obtained more than $285,000 through 135 fraudulent reimbursement requests from 2008 to 2013 during his time in Portugal and after returning to the United States. In the statement, signed by Nurse and his attorney, he acknowledged that he “routinely altered” amounts on valid documents and invoices submitted on expense reports to increase his reimbursement; “submitted fraudulent, manufactured, and/or duplicated documentation” on expense reports, “falsely represented” quotes and estimates for service from vendors as services actually provided, rather than lower amounts actually charged; altered documentation associated with household shipping charges “to obtain additional benefit from an increase shipping allowance”; and falsely obtained reimbursement for non-reimbursable expenses.

After his resignation as a missionary, the statement added, Nurse continued to seek reimbursement for “suspect shipping expenses by false statements submitted to IMB through interstate emails.” He also received nearly $21,000 in additional funds through a clerical error by the board’s benefits department and has yet to return those funds.

The mission board became aware in January of “suspicious transactions” by Nurse related to shipping of household items from Portugal to the United States, according to the court document. IMB internal audit staff began a full-scale review of Nurse’s reimbursement requests, comparing them with original documents obtained from Portugal. Results of the internal review were reported to the FBI, which began an investigation.

In a statement, IMB General Counsel Derek Gaubatz said:

“We are deeply grieved that one sent out to proclaim the free gift of the Gospel would violate the sacred trust placed in him by Southern Baptists. IMB believes it is appropriate that Mr. Nurse face accountability for his actions and fully supports his prosecution under federal law. At the same time, IMB takes no joy in that prosecution. IMB is praying for Mr. Nurse and his family that they would experience the mercy of God in a fresh way.

“IMB is very thankful for its Internal Audit team that uncovered and put an end to the sophisticated methods used by Mr. Nurse to carry out his scheme. IMB has already put into place even more enhanced accountability measures to prevent similar schemes in the future. IMB takes its role as a steward over Southern Baptist resources given for missions very seriously. While both IMB’s external auditors and the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) have independently verified that IMB has robust anti-fraud measures in place, IMB will be seeking their input on any additional measures they would recommend.

“Finally, IMB wishes to commend the special agents in the FBI and the professionalism of the US Attorney’s office for their role in bringing resolution to this matter.”

In an Oct. 22 message to all missionaries and staff, IMB Executive Vice President Clyde Meador asked for prayer for Nurse, his family and everyone affected by the case.

“One of the members of our IMB personnel family has acted in such a way to cause grievous harm to the cause of Christ and furtherance of the Gospel in the area where he served,” Meador said. “It is one thing when someone sins and hurts himself, but when the individual takes advantage of the funds and the trust given to him by IMB, it seems much more damaging.”

“When family hurts us deeply, a best first reaction is bathing our reaction to the hurt in prayer. God alone can comfort, provide wisdom, and will guide your thoughts and words as you move forward in processing what has happened,” Meador continued. “Please join us in holding this brother up in prayer…. By allowing the federal government access to the facts, we have acted in a biblical manner, and now there is a legal penalty to be paid. We know you will be praying with us for him and those he loves in the coming months and years.”

IMB, Southern Baptists’ denominational mission enterprise, has more than 4,800 missionaries serving worldwide.

Nurse, originally from Montana, now lives in Washington state, according to court records.

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  • Erich Bridges