WILKES-BARRE – Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis said she has referred allegations a local pastor and his wife may have defrauded donors by falsely claiming the wife has cancer to the Wilkes-Barre police for investigation.
Salavantis said her office received a call from someone who is questioning the legitimacy of a raffle that was held, reportedly to raise money for cancer treatments for Amy Lewis, the wife of the Rev. Eugene Lewis, former pastor at First Church of Christ in Wilkes-Barre.
The person came forward this week after several stories appeared in The Times Leader regarding questions that have been raised about the fundraiser.
Eugene Lewis of Dagobert Street, Wilkes-Barre, was removed as pastor at First Church of Christ on Dec. 8 after, he said, church officials questioned whether his wife is truly ill. The couple contend Amy is suffering from bone and liver cancer.
In support of the raffle, a letter, purportedly from the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia, had been distributed. It stated Amy Lewis was a patient there and the center was sponsoring the raffle on her behalf.
In an interview last week, Hugh McDermott, compliance director for Cancer Treatment Centers of America, said he advised church officials the center did not sponsor a raffle for Amy Lewis, and she was never a patient there.
Salavantis said she referred the case to Wilkes-Barre police because the case fell within its jurisdiction. Wilkes-Barre has its own detective division.
Drew McLaughlin, the city's administrative coordinator, said Salavantis advised the person who contacted her office to file a complaint with Wilkes-Barre police. No one has done so yet, so no investigation has begun.
If and when complaints are received, an investigation could be undertaken, McLaughlin said. We are aware of this situation from media reports and we will closely monitor if a complaint is filed.
Eugene and Amy Lewis' attorney, Peter Moses, did not return a phone message Thursday. In a prior interview, Moses said there are many facts that have yet to be revealed.
The Lewises were in the process of gathering information, and would address the allegations when appropriate.
News that the case has been forwarded to city police was a relief to one of the donors, who was among the first people to question the legitimacy of the raffle.
The donor, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation from the couple, became suspicious because Amy Lewis' health did not appear to be deteriorating, as would be expected with someone undergoing cancer treatments.
The person believes others also had been duped and came forward out of concern that, should the cancer claims be false, the couple would defraud additional people.
You put Christmas and cancer together, you have a potential windfall, the donor said.
In another matter, a preliminary hearing set for Thursday for Eugene Lewis, who is charged with fleeing the scene after striking another vehicle, was continued. No new date has been set.