RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) -
An ABC 8News investigation exposes a local minister's slide from praying for the community to preying on it.
Ask anyone who has met him, and you'll be told that Reverend Joseph Yancey has a smooth way with words.
But ask anyone who has had the misfortune of doing business with him, and you'll find a line of former Joe Yancey believers who claim when it comes to the Eighth Commandment ("Thou Shalt Not Steal"), the reverend has not always practiced what he preached.
It was in April 2013 that ABC 8News first met Joe Yancey.
The family of former delegate Phil Hamilton had been desperate for someone to review his case. The one-time prominent Republican was convicted of using his position in the General Assembly to get a bill passed to create a job for himself. His ex-wife and children believe he's innocent.
Roxanne Burnett says she met reverend Yancey through a mutual friend.
"He dropped names of powerful people that were interested in doing the right thing and having this case looked at again," she said.
Among the names dropped were Delegate Joe Morrissey and his law partner and well known political analyst Paul Goldman. Burnett showed Lagoe a signed contract that appears to say Yancey, along with Goldman and Morrissey's law firm, was working on Hamilton's case.
When asked if he was in any way working on getting a presidential pardon for Phil Hamilton with Yancey, Morrissey says he had "nothing to do with it at all."
Lagoe: "You thought you were paying Joe Morrissey's and Paul Goldman's law firm for legal services? Burnett: "Yes, absolutely." Lagoe: "You found out later you weren't?" Burnett: "No, the document was fraudulent!"
Banking records show Yancey received numerous payments—thousands of dollars—for the alleged legal services.
Burnett says Yancey told her he and all the people working to free Hamilton met with Vice President Joe Biden during his visit to the area to tout gun control and a deal was hashed out.
Lagoe: "At one point he told you he had a pardon in hand from President Obama?" Burnett: "He did… he did."
The family says that's when demands for more money began.
Skepticism rising, they began researching Reverend Yancey online and found out he has a criminal past. Louisa County court records show Yancey is a convicted felon, busted for grand larceny for selling a house he didn't own and contracting without a license.
York County also began searching for him. They charged him with six counts of obtaining money by false pretenses. There was no presidential pardon.
"Everything he was saying was a lie," Burnett said.
There were no lawyers working the case.
"I can't wait to tell the courts when this matter goes up that we were doing nothing and it was all a scam," Morrissey said.
And the money was just gone.
"Someone's out thousands, tens of thousands of dollars using my name. That can make you a little angry," Goldman said.
Little did anyone know at the time, those tens of thousands of dollars paid to Yancey in the fake pardon case were just a drop in the bucket. ___________________________________________________
At age 92, John Thomasson still runs a rental home and real estate company, but is best known for founding a funeral home business that he sold several years back.
"It turned out that I can't retire. I have to continue to work," he said.
That's because a major chunk of his retirement money went into real estate ventures.
Lagoe: "Looking at these court records, it appears you're out hundreds of thousands of dollars?" Thomasson: "More than that. Close to a million dollars."
Thomasson had gone into business with a man he thought he could trust—his real estate agent and partner, a local minister named Joe Yancey.
"He always come up with such good proposals how he was going to flip something, we was going to make so much money out of this, and how we was going to split the money and everything," Thomasson said.
ABC 8News obtained banking records showing Thomasson wrote Yancey hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of checks. Civil court records show much of that money just vanished.
Thomasson wrote Yancey a check for $90,000 to buy a property on Zion Road in Troy. He wrote Yancey numerous other checks for thousands of dollars for what he thought were mortgage payments, but Yancey never actually bought the property.
"Truth of the matter as it turned out, he didn't have any title to it," Thomasson said.
A signed contract shows Thomasson and Yancey agreed to purchase property in Powhatan together—property that court records would later show does not even exist and was based off altered documents for surveying services.
In Richmond, Yancey was given money to buy property at 1506 Belmont Road—an address that does not even exist.
Circuit Court Judge Timothy Sanner ruled there was "clear and convincing" evidence that Joe Yancey committed "actual fraud" against Thomasson. But Yancey didn't want to discuss it when ABC 8News questioned him.
Lagoe: "What happened to the hundreds of thousands of dollars missing in Louisa? Yancey: "What are you talking about?" Lagoe: "Civil case: a judge just found you liable for hundreds of thousands of dollars of fraud. What happened to all that money?" Yancey: "Hey, listen, I don't have no comments so you can go ahead and report whatever you want, A.J. No comment."
The judge ruled there was no doubt Yancey committed fraud to the tune of nearly $295,000. Thomasson claims it's closer to a million dollars, but admits his record keeping wasn't great and because of his trust of Yancey, many deals were done on a handshake.
"I trusted him. I really trusted that Joe Yancey. Why I did it, I don't know," Thomasson said.
Thomasson is not alone when it comes to trusting Joe Yancey.
Southhill detective Nelson Watson has been investigating one of Yancey's real estate deals. He says his victim thought she was purchasing an old school and a neighboring home. Watson says Yancey received nearly $100,000, but just like in the Thomasson case, no land was actually purchased.
Lagoe: "The lady thought she owned this school here?" Watson: "That's correct." A.J. Lagoe: "Never got bought?" Watson: "Never got purchased. It's still in the original name."
A Henrico County grand jury has also indicted Yancey for stealing money in a land scheme, and Spotsylvania County has charged him for writing a bad check on a closed account to buy a car from a dealership.
The sheriff's department says the car is still listed as stolen, which brings us to a bizarre twist in our investigation. Every time ABC 8News caught up with Joe Yancey, he got into a different vehicle.
While he has criminal charges pending in four counties and is under investigation in at least one other, the under-fire reverend admits no guilt.
Lagoe: "You have nothing to say to defend yourself?" Yancey: "I have nothing at all to say to you. In the courtroom." Lagoe: "Do you think you're going to be exonerated in these cases?" Yancey: "Every day."
Every day, John Thomasson walks into his office with the slow gate of a man who's seen 92 years worth of life and death, knowing he'll likely never retire before he becomes a client of his former funeral home business.
"I just lost out everything," he said.
On Tuesday, a judge in York County revoked Yancey's bond. He is now behind bars.
Yancey has four fraud-related trials scheduled to begin this summer. While a judge has already ruled Yancey defrauded Thomasson out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, so far not one penny has been repaid.
[Clarification: On Wednesday, May 21, we reported John Thomasson still runs Thomasson Watson Funeral Home. 8News has learned that Thomasson no longer has any affiliation with the business after selling it in 2004 to its current owners. It now operates under the name of D. D. Watson Company, LLC and D. D. Watson is the principal.]