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Raleigh church distances itself from man accused of embezzling $5.5M from his employer

Hugh Franklin Johnson II
Hugh Franklin Johnson II CCBI

In a failed attempt to have his bond reduced after he was arrested on embezzlement charges, Hugh Franklin Johnson II told a judge that he was an active member of the Upper Room Church of God in Christ — recruiting new members, raising money for scholarships and taking part in a men's program.

But the pastor of the prominent, 3,000-member church in Southeast Raleigh offered a different account of Johnson's involvement, although he said Johnson gave money generously.

"While we are praying for and concerned for Hugh Johnson, he is not a member of the Upper Room," the pastor, Bishop Patrick L. Wooden Sr., said Thursday. "He has never recruited new members or served on any board. ... He might come to church two or three Sundays in a row, but then we might not see him for a month."

Johnson, 48, of Rocky Ford Court in northeast Raleigh has been in jail since February on charges that he used a company credit card to embezzle more than $5.5 million from his employer, BMG Labtech in Cary, between 2012 and 2017. The State Bureau of Investigation charged him with six felony counts of embezzlement and eight felony counts of obtaining property by false pretenses.

Investigators say Johnson lived an extravagant lifestyle, staying at a Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Florida and Trump International Hotel in New York. They also say he spent more than $145,000 at Ruth's Chris Steak House and used company funds to take vacations.

Wooden, who has served as pastor of the Upper Room for 31 years, said Johnson was "generous" in giving to the church.

"But it never crossed my mind that the brother was allegedly embezzling funds from his job," Wooden said. "I understand what he's trying to do, but he can't do it at the expense and reputation of the church."

Wooden has attracted national media attention over the years for his outspoken stance "in the fight for the unborn, against the homosexual agenda and to protect traditional marriage," according to the church's website.

Wooden said he visited Johnson at the Wake County jail soon after the arrest, and he asked church members to pray for Johnson.

"I wasn't sure if he did it or not," Wooden said of the charges against Johnson. "A charge is not a conviction. I preach against sin. That's one thing, but it's totally different with an individual and you have to be careful how you treat a man when he's down. I prayed for him."

Prosecutors say Johnson owns three homes in Wake County and "at least" five luxury vehicles, according to court documents.

He remained in custody Thursday at the Wake County jail under a $1 million bail, a jail spokesman reported.

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