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Former Land O'Lakes pastor accused of identity theft

LAND O'LAKES — Donald Ewan never had an account with Fifth Third Bank, but there it was, an e-mail from the bank with his name on it, detailing a plan for Ewan to pay off an overdrawn line of credit for $21,816.

Ewan, 68, called the bank and the Pasco County Sheriff's Office to find out what was going on.

An investigation revealed the person who stole Ewan's identity and racked up thousands in debt was the person Ewan was supposed to be able to trust most: Bruce Stutzman, 38, the pastor at New Hope Alliance Church, where Ewan was a church elder, according to the Sheriff's Office.

"If you can't trust your pastor, who can you trust?" Ewan said Friday to Bay News 9, a coverage partner with the Times.

Stutzman, of 5222 Martinique Drive in Lakeland, turned himself in Thursday at the Hillsborough County jail on a Pasco warrant for fraudulent use of personal information. He was released on $5,000 bail.

Reached by phone Friday, Stutzman declined to comment. He resigned from New Hope Alliance in June after being confronted by church representatives, a sheriff's report states.

Ewan said New Hope Alliance changed its name to Cross Life Church because of the angst caused by Stutzman.

"We had no idea he was doing all this stuff," Ewan said.

Ewan began working part-time at the church in August 2008. Investigators determined that Stutzman opened the MasterCard account in January 2009 in Ewan's name.

Authorities said Stutzman used credit cards to pay personal utility bills and make store purchases, and wrote convenience checks to withdraw thousands of dollars in cash advances.

Ewan said Stutzman withdrew $12,000 on the account the first week it was opened.

The investigation also determined that Stutzman used about $3,400 in church money to pay on the fraudulent account. Ewan told Bay News 9 that Stutzman kept money collected by church members to send to missionaries overseas.

"I would like to know why," Ewan said. "I fear this is a lifestyle for him."

The church has declined to press charges involving the theft of church money.

Records show Stutzman has had financial problems in his past, including a foreclosure and being taken to court to pay bills. This is Stutzman's first arrest in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

Former Land O'Lakes pastor accused of identity theft 02/04/11 [Last modified: Friday, February 4, 2011 8:35pm]
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