NJ Church Apologizes In Letter, Says Foreclosures Will End

A local church says it's now getting out of the tax lien and foreclosure business, and it's sorry it ever got into it.

All of this comes after a FOX 29 Investigates report last week introduced you to two families on the verge of losing their homes. Jeff Cole has our follow-up report.

WATCH ORIGINAL REPORT: FOX 29 Investigates: Church's Role In Tax Foreclosures

The letter is dated March 1, 2015, last Sunday, and it's addressed to "Our Fountain of Life Center Church Family." A copy has been posted on the website of a former member, turned critic, known as the "Redeemed Marine."

The letter starts with a reference to last week's two-part FOX 29 Investigates report.

"First, we want to apologize for the embarrassment this story has caused you, personally, and as a church body," the letter reads.

Last week, FOX 29 revealed that the Fountain of Life Center in Burlington – through a school it runs, a business it controls or entities linked to it – had been buying property owners' unpaid tax bills, or liens, and had in some instances moved to foreclose or take homes.

Donna Maxwell of Burlington County, who has lived for years in a rundown trailer, is one of them.

"So, your understanding is this church has paid these taxes because it wants this property?" Cole asked her.

"Yes," Maxwell answered.

"And it's going to throw you the hell out of here?" Cole asked.

"Yes," Maxwell said.

Maxwell and her children face a Spring eviction.

Jennifer Schlear of Palmyra fears the loss of her home.

"I thought churches were there to help you, not to prey on people's misfortune," she said.

The church's executive pastor, David Boudwin, defended the practice.

"She should pay her taxes. That's the law," he said, when we asked if he knew Maxwell.

But in Sunday's letter, the church's "Board of Elders" wrote that, while the practice is legal, it's one the church "should never have been involved in."

The letter also states since 2012 the church has not bought any new tax liens and adds it is working diligently to completely remove the church from the "investment strategy."

Earlier, the feds accused an entity controlled by the church of rigging bids at lien auctions so an 18-percent interest rate could be charged. It pleaded guilty and paid a fine.

A civil suit is pending. An attorney handling it says the "Fountain of Life Defendants" have agreed to settle for $250,000 and offer a big discount on past liens.

As for the women we interviewed, they say they're pleased to hear the church's school, Life Center Academy, is no longer buying tax liens, but they remain uncertain about their futures.

The church elders said in their letter, "Unfortunately, we are untangling ourselves from decisions that were made some twenty years ago by previous leadership. Since 2012, we have not purchased any new liens as was promised."

On the phone Tuesday, a church representative said it's divesting itself of the tax lien properties. It would no longer foreclose. And the church says it has reached out to Maxwell and Schlear to see how they could work together.