An emergency application for a temporary restraining order and temporary injunction filed by Cleburne attorneys Scott Cain and Brent Keil on behalf of Cowboy Way Church members details pastors Randy and Michelle Free’s actions of defrauding the church.
The husband and wife couple face related criminal charges as well, both having been arrested and indicted on 10 counts each including misappropriation of fiduciary duty, tampering with evidence, as well as several counts of theft of property and money laundering.
Johnson County Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Jeff Monk recently set their bonds at $100,000 each. Johnson County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested the couple on Sept. 24 and both bonded out the next day.
Randy Free, according to the petition by the plaintiff church members, told members of the congregation at the conclusion of the July 11 Sunday morning service that the Alvarado church’s “next door neighbor” approached him about buying the church property and that he did not tell church members earlier because he didn’t want them to be disappointed had the sale not gone through.
“[Free] said he sought advice from his spiritual mentors and that God told him to sell church property so that is what he did,” according to the petition. “During this revelation, he would not tell the church members how much the sale was for or where he put the proceeds and instead simply said it was a done deal.”
As of January, Randy and Michelle Free were members of the church’s board of elders, as were Byron Rayburne and John Hagan, both of whom were legitimately elected to the board, according to the petition.
Randy and Michelle Free on Jan. 10 created a document purporting to be the minutes of a board meeting attended only by themselves.
“In this purported meeting, the Frees began the process of commandeering the church’s assets by attempting to oust elders Rayburne and Hagan and add an 80-year-old friend of the Frees who was not a member of the church and not familiar with the church,” according to the petition.
According to the petition, the Frees did not report the meeting to the two other elders they sought to replace.
“This was the first step in the Frees attempt to create a license to steal the church assets from the very members and elders who tithed, donated and worked to build the church,” according to the petition.
On Jan. 7, Randy Free appointed himself, without church approval, as president, treasurer, director and registered agent of the church and his wife and the 80-year-old friend as the only other directors and officers of the church.
Several days before that, Free reinstated Team Heritage International Inc., a separate entity wholly controlled by Free and his family, according to the petition.
“Free did this so he could park the church assets in another 501(c)(3) entity that he wholly controlled as part of his scheme to defraud the church,” according to the petition.
Free then negotiated to sell the church property to Great Southwestern Construction, a business next door to the church and did so without informing the members and legitimate elders of the church.
On July 2, Free sold the church to MYR Real Estate Holdings for between $1 million to $1.5 million.
On July 7, Free purchased a home at 9101 County Road 1127 in Godley in the name of Team Heritage International for $515,000.
“Upon information and belief, Free closed on the house by paying cash from the proceeds of his fraudulent sale of the church facilities,” according to the petition.
Following the July 11 news of the sale of the church, church members were shocked, according to the petition.
“Free had actually sold the house of God out from under the feet of the congregation,” according to the petition. “They had no idea at the time that he did it with a license to steal that he and Michelle created.”
Rayburne, on July 12, contacted the church’s mortgage company and confirmed that the mortgage had been paid off. Other members researched and found a deed that the church had been sold but also confirmed that no funds had been deposited into the church’s bank account.
Church members on July 13 reported the matter to the sheriff’s office and also discovered that numerous documents were missing from the church’s office.
Free shut the church’s Facebook page down on or about July 15. The next day, a church member reported that a check made out to the church had been cashed at First National Bank in Burleson.
“Free had set up an account that was only accessible by himself or his family and not by the duly elected treasurer of the church, Byron Rayburne,” according to the petition. “Free later moved the funds from First National Bank to Prosperity Bank in Granbury and placed approximately $1,145,071 of the proceeds from the sale of the church into an account under either his own name or under Team Heritage International and has already begun spending those funds through various wires out of the account, including an approximately $40,000 wire for horses.
“Approximately $150,000 remains in the First National Bank under the church’s name, but with the Frees as the only signatories.”
Randy and Michelle Free, according to the petition, fabricated documents to place them as the only officers of the church while removing the two legitimate elders of the church in order to sell the church property without taking a church vote or obtaining authority from the two legitimate church elders, according to the petition.
In addition to the horses and Godley home, the Frees have “hidden or are spending the rest of the church’s funds.”
Free went on to attempt to retain counsel on behalf of the church and challenge the church member’s choice of counsel, which was unanimously voted on by church members, legitimate elders and emergency elected elders, according to the petition.
“Ironically, Free is using the documents he and his wife created to assert that only the Frees can hold the Frees accountable for their theft,” according to the petition. “Defendants Free wrongfully acquired and exercised dominion and control over the real and personal property of the church.”
413th District Judge Bill Bosworth granted the church member’s requests for temporary restraining orders and temporary injunction. Bosworth also appointed a receiver to attempt to round up the church assets in question. A status hearing on the matter is scheduled for 9 a.m. Oct. 27 in the 413th District Court.