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Church Gives Police $1,000 Gifts

November 12, 1999

COLLEGE PARK, Ga. (AP) _ Calling police officers ``God’s ministers,″ an Atlanta-area church _ rich from more than $4.3 million in contributions from boxer Evander Holyfield _ has given $1,000 gifts to each of the 100 officers in its district.

``A police officer is a person who’s in authority, and it also says those who are in authority are God’s ministers,″ said Minister Kenneth Haynes.

Fulton County officials, however, want an ethics board to decide whether the checks constitute legitimate awards for public service or inappropriate gifts. A county leader raised questions about the recent dismissal of a church leader’s traffic ticket.

World Changers Ministries, a 20,000-member church, presented the checks Saturday at an appreciation breakfast.

Fulton County Police Chief Louis Graham, who was among those who received a check, asked the county attorney to review the matter. He said the police department has not performed any services exclusively for the church.

``Generally, it is not permissible to accept gifts and favors, but there’s an exception for awards given in public service,″ County Attorney O. V. Brantley said. ``It will be up to the ethics board to decide whether the checks fall under the exception.″

The ministries teaches that God promises wealth and health to the faithful. Holyfield, a heavyweight champion, gave $403,000 to the church in 1998 and donated $3.9 million this year.

Three weeks ago, a reverend at the ministries was ticketed for running a red light and failing to have proof of insurance, according to county records. The tickets were dismissed three days later with a warning.

``I don’t know if they are linked,″ said County Commission Chairman Mike Kenn. But he said he was concerned that the cash gifts might create the appearance that officers can be influenced.

``A lot of officers are concerned,″ he said. ``Some have refused it, some are holding it without cashing it and some have cashed it. They need some direction on what to do.″

Haynes said the traffic tickets didn’t lead to the gifts.

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