WILKES-BARRE – Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis said she has no basis to investigate allegations that a local pastor and his wife bilked donors out of money by falsely claiming the wife has cancer.
Salavantis said that as of Wednesday no one who had donated money to the Rev. Eugene B. Lewis and his wife, Amy, had come forward to lodge a complaint, which she would need in order to launch an investigation.
Typically, the protocol with something like this is a victim comes forward, she said. If people don't want to get involved, it isn't my place to start an investigation if I don't have a victim.
Eugene Lewis had been employed as pastor at First Church of Christ in Wilkes-Barre until Saturday, when he said he was forced to resign after officials in the church accused him and his wife of falsely claiming she has cancer in order to collect money from donors.
In an interview Tuesday, the couple adamantly denied the allegations. Eugene Lewis, who is black, contends he was forced out because church members were unhappy he was bringing more blacks and Hispanics into the church.
Dan Conrad, chairman of First Church of Christ's board of directors, on Wednesday declined to respond to Lewis' allegations, saying the issue was an employment matter that he did not wish to discuss in the press.
Salavantis said she has not been contacted by anyone in the church relating to the alleged cancer fraud. She encouraged anyone who believes they were defrauded to come forward.
If it was a dollar someone donated and they believe it was a fraudulent fundraiser, our office would look into it, she said.
Conrad said he did not plan to contact the District Attorney's Office regarding the allegations, repeating that he viewed the issue as an employment matter.
A person familiar with the church's investigation into the Lewis' said people became suspicious because Amy Lewis' health did not appear to be deteriorating, as would be expected with someone undergoing cancer treatments.
People also questioned why they had not heard who won a raffle the couple held to reportedly raise money for her cancer treatments.
In another matter, Amy Lewis is scheduled to appear before District Judge Martin Kane today at 9:15 a.m. for a preliminary hearing on one count of fraud in obtaining food stamps/assistance, a third-degree felony.
The state Office of Inspector General filed the charge in October, alleging Lewis failed to report income she received from a local company. That resulted in her receiving $7,808 in food stamps and $3,733 in medical assistance benefits to which she was not entitled from Feb. 1, 2010 to Jan. 31, 2012.
The charges mark the second time Amy Lewis was charged with defrauding a state assistance program. In 2005 she was charged with fraudulently obtaining $1,989 in subsidized child care benefits after she failed to report that Eugene Lewis was residing with her at a home in Kingston.
The charge was dismissed on Feb. 2, 2006 after Lewis repaid the total amount of unauthorized benefits, according to court records.
Attorney Peter Moses of Wilkes-Barre is representing Amy Lewis on the criminal charges. Moses said he had spoken to Eugene Lewis regarding his allegations relating to his ouster from the church, but has not yet determined if he will represent them on that matter.
Moses also is representing Eugene Lewis on charges of accidents involving damage to an attended vehicle, driving with a suspended license and two other summary offenses. Police said Eugene Lewis fled the scene after he backed into another car in the area of South Pennsylvania Avenue on Sept. 20. He faces a preliminary hearing before Kane on Dec. 20.