PORTLAND – A former pastor made his initial appearance Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Portland to face charges that he illegally collected Social Security disability benefits while earning a salary from a Brunswick church.
Carroll Freemont Pennell, 68, who now lives in Cushing, Texas, was arrested by Texas authorities July 29 on federal charges of conspiracy to commit Social Security fraud and theft of government money.
Pennell, now free on bail, attended the hearing accompanied by his attorney, J.P. DeGrinney. Pennell used a wooden cane to help him walk and struggled to stand when Magistrate Judge John Rich III entered the hearing room.
Pennell served as pastor of Word of God Fellowship Church from its founding in 1995 until he resigned and moved to Texas in November 2011, according to the criminal complaint filed by a Social Security Administration agent in July seeking a warrant for Pennell’s arrest.
In addition to working as church pastor, Pennell worked in the shipping department of the Grumbacker Brush Co. in Lisbon Falls until October 1997, when he said disabilities, including back pain and a heart condition, left him unable to work, the complaint states.
Pennell was granted disability benefits by the Social Security Administration in 1999 with condition that he could not earn more than $500 a month in salary and benefits from outside work.
“Pennell instructed church treasurers to issue paychecks to his wife Glenna so as not to interfere with his obtaining and maintaining Social Security benefits,” federal agent Adam Schneider said in the complaint.
Videos left at the church after Pennell’s resignation show that he “preaches in an emphatic manner” and that he “moves about the altar in a vigorous fashion without any apparent limitation,” according to the complaint.
Pennell received monthly disability benefits from about February 1999 until about August 2010 when he reached retirement age. In all, he received nearly $147,000 in benefits without reporting compensation he earned as a pastor, the complaint states.
Word of God Fellowship Church, which was an affiliate of the International Word of God Fellowship headquartered in Texas, no longer exists in that name.
Pennell told the judge at the hearing that he and his wife live on their Social Security retirement benefits and he does not have money to hire an attorney. The judge appointed DeGrinney to continue representing him.
Pennell faces 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 if convicted.
Staff Writer Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at: