Pastor served during service
BILL SHERMAN World Religion Writer
11/11/2006
Tulsa World (Final Home Edition), Page A1 of News

The Rev. Johnny Chambers (left) is served with court papers by process server Tim Greshem on Friday while Chambers preaches during a Bible study at Century Cathedral. A federal court judgment asserts that Chambers and two others bilked an elderly Arizona man out of his life savings.  MICHAEL WYKE / Tulsa World


Correction
A secondary headline on this referred to the Rev. Johnny Lee Chambers and his former wife, not his current wife. Chambers and his former wife Natalie Ann Chambers were sued by a woman who said they charged thousands of dollars to her credit card.


The subpoena stems from a civil suit alleging the man conspired to improperly obtain an Arizona man's life savings.

An evangelist conducting a revival service Friday morning in Tulsa was issued a subpoena that stems from a federal lawsuit claiming that he and two others bilked an elderly Arizona man out of his life savings.

The Rev. Johnny Lee Chambers, who has lived in the Tulsa area and has held evangelistic meetings here on and off since 1993, was ordered four years ago by the U.S. District Court in Arizona to repay $314,994 plus interest to the estate of Robert Stickel.

Chambers has been conducting revival meetings for the past several weeks at Century Cathedral, 1212 S. 129th East Ave., a church pastored by his sister and brother-in-law, Geraldine and Bob Alsup.

When private process server Tim Greshem walked to the pulpit Friday morning, Chambers glanced at the papers, said, "Praise the Lord," and returned to his message.

The civil suit alleges that Chambers, his then-wife Natalie Chambers and Tatjana Guenther conspired to obtain money from Stickel by improper means, and exercised "undue influence and other improper means" to induce Stickel to contribute the bulk of his life savings to the Chamberses.

Guenther was a younger woman who befriended Stickel when he was older than 70.

The suit states that Guenther introduced Stickel to Johnny and Natalie Chambers, who developed a relationship of trust with him.

The suit alleges the three misrepresented to Stickel that the funds he gave would be used for religious work, and instead converted them to their own personal use.

Dale A. Gaar, a Denver attorney representing the Stickel estate, said that the Chamberses and Guenther did not respond to the suit, and that in April 2002 the court awarded a default judgment in favor of the Stickel estate.

"We never got to argue the merits of the case," Gaar said.

Lynn Stickel, a retired Homeland Security customs and border protection officer living in Arizona, is executor of his father's estate. He said his father's money came from the sale of the family farm in Illinois.

He said he and his sisters were extremely upset when Guenther moved in with their father in the fall of 1997.

About two months later, on Dec. 14, 1997, his father died. The death certificate listed the cause of death as a heart attack.

Sandy Chrisman of Littleton, Colo., Robert Stickel's youngest daughter, said she and her brother and sister were shocked to find he had only about $1,000 remaining in his bank accounts, insufficient money for a funeral.

Debbie Brown, the older daughter, was living with her father and Guenther when he died.

She said she had great respect for her father, but "I didn't realize how gullible he was.

"It was all so traumatic," she said. "I've chosen different ways to heal from it all. I knew that someday God would have his vengeance. Dad was pure in his heart."

The subpoena served Friday requires Johnny Chambers to produce documentation of his assets, including copies of his federal tax returns, deeds to all property he owns, all current and past contracts for which he is owed money, cancelled checks, titles for all vehicles, and credit card statements.

Chambers is ordered to appear Nov. 28 with the documents at the Tulsa office of Lyons, Clark & Mensching Inc.

Attorney Pat Mensching, representing the estate of Robert Stickel, said the subpoenas require defendants to appear "in aid of execution of the judgment."

He said the court has a procedure to hold someone accountable for failure to honor a subpoena.

In theory, that eventually could lead to arrest warrants being issued, he said, but "I've never had one go that far, especially in the federal court system."

Contacted by phone after the Friday service, Johnny Chambers said, "The thing we are very upset about is that they disrupted the service. This is a religious service, and I'm an ordained minister.

"That's all the statement I'm going to make," he said.

Guenther was served a subpoena Friday afternoon.

She said in an interview at her apartment near 51st Street and Memorial Drive that she did not introduce Stickel to the Chamberses, as the suit claims, but that Stickel invited her to their revival services in Arizona.

"At first, it seemed OK," she said, but she was offended "when they started to collect people's cars and jewelry."

She said she "couldn't stand" the Chamberses and begged Stickel to stop going to their meetings.

She said she and Stickel were prayer partners and friends, and she was upset when he died.

Chambers conducted revival meetings in Tulsa in 1993, 1998, 1999 and 2000, most of them at Century Cathedral.

Chambers' only son, Johnny Lee Chambers II, living in Reno, Nev., said his parents were divorced, and his father married Mary Ann Tyson, who changed her name to Natalie Ann Chambers.

The Stickel family members are not the only ones to sue the Chamberses.

On Oct. 10, 2003, Johnny and Natalie Chambers were sued by a woman who said they had charged $12,582 on her credit card and had refused to pay it back.

Eva Sweat told the court she agreed to let the Chamberses use her card to charge $2,000, with the agreement that they would pay her back. The suit alleges they exceeded the agreed amount by more than $10,000, and cut off contact with her. Five months later, the court entered a default judgment against the Chamberses for the amount charged plus interest and attorney fees of $1,250.

Jeff Chrisman, husband of Sandy Chrisman, said he has gotten a measure of closure from seeing the subpoena filed on Chambers.

"We've been chasing this guy for nine years," he said.

The Chrismans are involved in a ministry, Haven Ministries in Littleton, to help people who are victims of what they call "religious affinity fraud," exploiting the trust, friendship and tight-knit structure of people in religious groups.