UPDATE: State investigating Kingsport pastor for possible financial wrongdoing


KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL)- Public records revealed new details about how the state began investigating a local pastor for possible financial wrongdoing.

Sullivan County’s District Attorney General Barry Staubus told News Channel 11 earlier this month that the Tennessee Department of Revenue was investigating Higher Ground Baptist Church in Kingsport for “financial impropriety.”

PREVIOUS STORY: DA: State investigating Higher Ground Baptist Church for possible ‘financial impropriety’

Staubus met with state officials about the investigation on Thursday. He declined to detail the conversation but confirmed charges haven’t been filed.

According to reports from the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department, law enforcement first got involved on the afternoon of October 17th.

At about 1:30 PM, a deputy and a detective responded to a report of theft. That’s when Richard Potter stated that Pastor Ronald Owens “had been using the church’s tax-exempt card for personal gain.”

Later that day, detectives returned and asked Owens to leave. The report said this was at the request of “other church members.”

Detectives told Owens that he would be charged with criminal trespassing if he was caught back inside. However, he was permitted to travel through the parking lot to get to his home, located behind the church.

News Channel 11 tried to reach Pastor Owens for comment Thursday but no one answered the door.

Other church staff also declined to comment.

Capt. Andy Seabolt, public information officer for the sheriff’s department, said Owens has been allowed to preach at Higher Ground since that day.

On October 24th, a supplemental report was written by the sheriff’s department. It said, “This case cleared exceptional, the suspect is known and can be located. After discussing this case with DA Barry Staubus and ADA Gene Perrin, this case is being turned over for investigation by the TN Department of Revenue.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Revenue declined to comment Thursday.

Sullivan County Sheriff Jeff Cassidy, who said his wife is a member of Higher Ground Baptist Church, also declined to comment.

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