Century-old Joliet church faces financial battle after Ponzi scheme scandal

After serving the Joliet community through its ministry for more than a century, Messiah Lutheran Church is facing its very own judgment day.

The church was named as a defendant in a lawsuit brought fourth by victims of a businessman found guilty of running a Ponzi scheme cheating investors out of millions while at the same time donating money to the church for more than a decade.

"We truly have a modern-day David versus Goliath battle on our hands," said Brian Wielbik, President of Messiah’s church council.

As part of a federal court judgment, Messiah has been ordered to pay back $487,000 to the victims. The church managed a lump-sum payment of $187,000 but must make an additional balloon payment of $300,000 by November 15, or see the Securities and Exchange Commission order the bank accounts frozen and the property seized for future sale.

"The SEC was going after a business, here’s Messiah in the middle—we are not accused and have not done anything wrong," said Beth Hohisel with Messiah’s litigation team.

Pastor Kurt Hoover hopes that they’re able to keep the building if possible.

"Our goal is that our congregation would stay united as a church family," he said.

The church attempted to obtain a loan going to more than a dozen lending institutions only to be turned away, and is now asking for the community to come to its aid so that it can continue its good works.

"Help us get the message out, drive people to the website so they can learn about our fight and help us spread the word. The other thing you can do, if you find it in your hearts, is to donate and help us win this battle."