Like any other minister of God, the job of Pastor Isaiah Willie of Happy People Bible Church in the Ayobo area of Lagos State was to preach spiritual redemption to members of his congregation.
However, police investigations have revealed that the 40-year-old preacher was not only into bank fraud but was also part of an armed robbery gang.
The father of two, who is cooling his heels in the custody of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, told PUNCH Metro that he had been into crime for many years, adding that he had been arrested a few years ago but was later released.
Narrating how he and others usually perpetrated bank fraud, he said, “I used to work with a group of guys who are retired bankers. One of them was even a bank manager. Most times, we would get a virgin cheque of a bank customer and the owner’s signature.
“If the money is a large sum, the teller would contact the owner of the account on the telephone but we would have already hacked the telephone number of the customer such that when the bank calls the owner of the account for confirmation, it would be one of my members that would answer the call and give approval for withdrawal.
“We were able to perpetrate the fraud in Fortune Bank and African Express Bank which are both defunct now. Sometimes we, through the connivance of bank employees, used to clean out dead people’s accounts and use the money to do business. Most times, families of dead people don’t get to access their relative’s account until months or years after the person’s death.”
Willie said he was arrested by the police for his fraudulent activities but regained his freedom when his gang members secured his release.
PUNCH Metro learnt that about a year later after Willie had decided never to commit crimes, the pastor was lured back by a gang of robbers that specialised in breaking and stealing from Automated Teller Machines.
He said, “I met a man who is from my hometown, Confidence Saviour. He was wanted by the police so I told him he could live with me. A few weeks later, he told me to drop some equipment at a nearby bush and later that night, he gave me N10, 000.
“He eventually told me that he and his gang were breaking into ATMs and making a lot of money so I decided to join them. I never followed them for any operation but I usually left their operation tools -such as sledge hammer, generator and iron cutters- near the bank where they wanted to attack and I would leave.
“However, on one occasion, they went to rob at the Ayobo branch of Access Bank. Instead of dropping the equipment and collecting the usual N10, 000, I wanted more money this time around so I hid in a bush nearby. Unfortunately, the robbery did not go as planned as three policemen were killed at the scene. I was later arrested by SARS men when other gang members mentioned my name.”
The cleric, who was close to tears, said he had disappointed God and urged the police to give him one last chance.
While quoting Romans Chapter 6 verse 1, he said, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid. I know I have disappointed my congregation and I urge them not to backslide. I have been a preacher for over 10 years and I have led many people to God. My flesh was weak. I know that God will forgive me for my crime because I am genuinely sorry.”