A Montreal pastor who stole more than $250,000 from his followers failed to escape justice Wednesday by invoking Jordan’s ruling for a second time. For nearly 10 years, fraudster Mwinda Lezoka has been increasing the number of deferrals, requests and changes in attorney to avoid imprisonment.
The former leader of the Christian community at Béthel, an evangelical church in Ahuntsic, was convicted of fraud in October 2020 after nine long years of legal action in a Montreal court. The man of God took advantage of his “undeniable ascent” over his flock to defraud them.
On Wednesday, Judge Yves Paradis denied the request to stay the proceedings due to the unreasonable delays under Reverend Lizuka’s decision in Jordan. Let us remember that in such a case the Supreme Court imposes a maximum of 30 months for the duration of the proceedings, except in exceptional circumstances, in order to respect the fundamental rights of the defendants.
But if the case has continued since December 2011, this is “mainly” due to institutional delays in Montreal and delays caused by the accused, Judge Paradis concludes. For example, the pastor changed attorneys three times during the proceedings to end up representing himself alone at trial. Me Cynthia Lacombe is now defending him.
« [Avant] Reigning Jordan (in July 2016), Mr. Lezoka has made no effort to push the file forward. On the contrary, he doubled the adjournment requests for the services of a lawyer and appealed to the Supreme Court, which was forced to postpone the trial. […] This is a voluntary act undertaken by Mr. Lizuka, the purpose of which was to avoid holding the trial on the scheduled dates,” says Judge Paradis.
This is also the second time that Mwenda Lizuka has tried to get away with claiming unreasonable delays. In 2017, the judge concluded that the defendant had submitted his application in order to “circumvent” the decision of the court, which refused to postpone his trial. In addition, the pastor wanted to “postpone his trial as much as possible,” according to this judge. His trial finally took place from fall 2018 to June 2020.
With the case starting before Jordan’s decision, exceptional “transitional measures” are being applied, according to Justice Paradis. On the other hand, Mwenda Lizuka has not been prejudiced by the delay, despite her claims. The judge said that if he lost his job and found himself in financial instability, it was because his church had fallen.
In the 2000s, Reverend Lizuka extracted large sums of money from many of his followers while he had put his church in financial trouble over over-ambitious real estate projects. Thus, he put “undue” pressure on two sisters to get them to mortgage their home in order to lend $127,000 to the church. Another group loaned the pastor $50,000 to prevent him from losing his home. However, she instead made a loan to an organization run by the pastor. Even a deacon ended up on the street after losing $80,000.
Until his conviction, Mwenda Lizuka continued to travel regularly to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he was a respected priest. He also previously ran a diamond trading center in his home country. Note that Mr. Lizuka has not taught at the University of Montreal since 2010.
Comments on the sentence are due to begin on November 10.