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SPAC Nation: Church group ‘financially exploited members’

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Media captionConned by My Church: Young worshippers left in debt

An evangelical church praised for helping ex-gang members has been accused of financially exploiting young people from its congregation.

One member of charity SPAC Nation said she was persuaded to commit benefit fraud by a trustee, while another said she had a £5,000 loan taken out in her name without her knowledge.

A former senior insider told the BBC that the church “has to be shut down”.

SPAC Nation denies the church is financially exploiting young people.

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The church’s leader, Pastor Tobi Adegboyega, ignored BBC Panorama’s request for an interview

Kurtis, 23, was one of the church’s trusted inner circle until his departure in January this year.

He appears in a BBC Panorama investigation into SPAC Nation, which is accused of leaving young people with debts of thousands of pounds.

“Certain leaders shouldn’t be around youth, they shouldn’t be around anywhere where people are vulnerable,” he said.

The church’s leader Pastor Tobi Adegboyega “has to be held accountable”, Kurtis added.

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Kurtis was one of the church’s inner circle until his departure in January

Gracy was 21 when she joined SPAC in 2017. She told Panorama she was encouraged to apply for Universal Credit after her Pastor Ebo Dougan – who is also a trustee of the charity – noticed she had stopped giving money to the church.

She handed over her details to Pastor Dougan and someone filled out an online application form on her behalf. She then attended a meeting at the job centre.

The BBC has seen messages and documentation that confirm her version of events.

Gracy’s online application shows that after she left the appointment someone changed her details to show that she had two children. This made her eligible for a £1,200 payment.

“Even sometimes when we know things are wrong, in that moment I’m just thinking like ‘OK, my father figure would not tell me to do something bad’,” she said.

Gracy was told to pay £900 of the sum into two accounts. She kept the rest, but was later investigated by the Department for Work and Pensions, who fined her £600 and ordered her to repay the £1,200.

“I can’t afford it obviously,” she said. “I feel heartbroken because I thought this was supposed to be a family.”

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Gracy said she was encouraged to apply for Universal Credit

Lovis was 18 when a loan was taken out in her name and without her knowledge, she said.

She was diagnosed with kidney cancer in November 2017.

The illness left her unable to continue working as an assistant sous chef and she began looking for a job with less demanding hours.

She was invited to an interview at a firm called Zuriel Recruitment. The agency was run by Tobi Adegboyega’s second in command Samuel Akokhia, who has a conviction for attempted robbery.

At the interview Lovis provided Zuriel Recruitment with personal details including a photocopy of her passport, her home address, her mobile number and bank account details.

At the end of the process, her interviewer – a pastor at SPAC Nation – encouraged her to attend a service that week.

“It was a bit weird,” she said. “But at the end of the day it’s church – so I didn’t really think much of it.”

‘For the greater good’

Lovis started going to SPAC Nation services and several months later moved into a safe house – known as a “TRAP house” – run by Pastor Samuel Akokhia.

In March Lovis discovered a £5,000 four-year loan had been taken out in her name without her knowledge.

The money never reached her, instead being transferred to a company called E. R. Management Group. That company is run and owned by Emmanuel Akokhia, Samuel’s brother.

BBC Panorama has seen paperwork confirming the money trail. It is not known what happened to the money after it arrived in E. R. Management Group’s account.

Lovis confronted a senior pastor about the loan.

“They basically said the loan was for the greater good and they were going to use the money to buy a bigger TRAP house to accommodate more people,” she said.

“And I was thinking ‘that’s all well and good – but why did I not know about it?'”

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Media captionSPAC Nation has been praised for helping people to leave gangs

On Friday the charities regulator revealed it had opened its own investigation into SPAC Nation’s safeguarding and finances.

The Charity Commission also ordered SPAC Nation to “bank its money”.

The Metropolitan Police is reviewing allegations of possible fraud and other offences before deciding whether to investigate further.

SPAC Nation denies that the church’s lead pastor Tobi Adegboyega is financially exploiting young people.

It said the church had a “robust complaints procedure” and “a well run disciplinary system”.

SPAC Nation told the BBC that the church “is not responsible what goes on inside individual leaders’ or members’ houses”.

Tobi Adegboyega ignored BBC Panorama’s request for an interview.

Watch the full investigation on Panorama at 19:30 GMT or afterwards on BBC iPlayer.

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