NEW PORT RICHEY — The pastor of Upper Room Apostolic Church has been arrested on charges he used the identities of two dead parishioners to boost his earnings in a "pyramid scheme," according to Pasco deputies.
Mark Huba, 55, said the whole thing is a misunderstanding and that he plans to fight the allegations.
"I didn't do anything wrong as far as defrauding anyone," Huba told the Times on Thursday evening. He added that, "It's very innocent. I can't believe they pursued it like this. It's very damaging."
In addition to leading the congregation at Upper Room, Huba sells GBG liquid vitamin supplements, a multilevel marketing operation in which leaders receive a commission on the goods sold by their sales reps.
Detectives say Huba tried to inflate his recruitment ranks by listing the names of two deceased parishioners on his sales team: David Combs, a 45-year-old man who died in 2002, and his father, Jack Combs, who died in 2009 at age 75.
Huba had conducted the funeral services for both men.
The issue came to light in November 2010, when Jack Combs' grandson, Joshua Smith, visited the pastor's son. Smith noticed boxes of GBG in the Huba home at 1833 Pepperell Drive bearing the names of his deceased grandfather and uncle, according to a Pasco County Sheriff's Office report. Huba would have needed the Social Security numbers of anyone he listed as a sales rep, authorities said.
Smith told his grandmother, who reported the incident to authorities. The Sheriff's Office began investigating in March 2011, then referred the matter to the State Attorney's Office for review. Prosecutors obtained a warrant this month for Huba's arrest.
Huba acknowledged some of his GBG inventory had the names of the deceased men, though he declined to explain why until he spoke with his attorney. But he said he didn't make any misrepresentations to make any money.
"Nobody bought this product," he told the Times. "I'm the one that lost the money."
Huba said he has cooperated with authorities throughout the course of the year-and-a-half investigation. He last spoke to detectives a year ago and provided all the information they requested, he said, then didn't hear anything until deputies arrived at his doorstep Sunday night. He was booked at the Land O'Lakes jail on a charge of fraud and released after posting $5,000 bail.
He believes his arrest grew out of a misunderstanding with somebody who then went to the authorities.
"In the process, I offended somebody," he said. "I tried to apologize for it but it wasn't received. I'm not guilty of any fraud."