New York Daily News & Police Bureau Chief – The blinged-out Brooklyn bishop whose church was robbed over the weekend in the middle of his sermon said he hasn’t lost the faith — and he’ll be back in the pulpit Sunday morning preaching about life and death.
Bishop Lamor Whitehead said he had his own brush with life and death Sunday when three masked, armed thieves stormed his Canarsie church and broke the Eighth Commandment, stealing what police said was $1 million worth of jewelry from him and his wife.
In an exclusive sitdown with the Daily News on Monday, a still-shaken Whitehead relived the harrowing ordeal that left his family in shock and his parishioners in need of something beyond spiritual counseling.
“They were in all black,” Whitehead said of the robbers. “The guns were already out. They came straight to me and my wife — didn’t do nothing to anybody else. Well, they kept guns on the two men by the door.”
Whitehead, 44, described the helplessness he said he felt when the brazen thieves threw the doors open so hard that they slammed against the church walls.
“When I saw those dudes coming in, I said ‘Oh no,’” Whitehead recalled. “I was sitting there being like, ‘Oh no, they got me. Can’t do nothing.’”
The caught-on-camera caper shows Whitehead in the pulpit in clerical vestments moving away from the lectern and going down to the floor, reassuring the robbers he had no plans to resist.
As if his acquiescence wasn’t enough, one of the robbers held a gun to the head of Whitehead’s 8-month-old son.
“The violation, it was gruesome. It was different,” Whitehead said. “They had no regard. If I hadn’t gotten down it could have gotten ugly.”
The roughest part, he said, was “the hurt, the violation of the church. The hurt of my wife. My wife is still crying. My 14-year-old daughter — she isn’t really talking. They had a gun in my 8-month-old baby’s face.”
After he surrendered, Whitehead said, the crooks went to work.
“They knew exactly what they wanted,” Whitehead said. “They took my rings off, took my watch off, they took everything off. They took my chain, because it was Communion Sunday, so they took my bishop chain off, and I had other jewelry underneath my robe that wasn’t showing and he knew it was there and said, “Where’s everything else at?” and he started to tap my back and my neck.”
The gunman found the bishop’s other chains and started pulling, ripping his clerical collar off in the process.
“The chains weren’t coming off, so he started yelling ‘take it off, take it off,’” Whitehead said.
At the same time, another gunman demanded his wife’s jewelry.
“She’s still scared,” the minister said. “Her birthday is this Saturday. I’m just trying to figure out, you know, how to make sure she will be all right. But only time will tell.”
After the gunmen left, Whitehead said he jumped in his car and drove along Avenue D looking for the white Mercedes-Benz they escaped in, but didn’t find them.
There have been no arrests.
The NYPD told Whitehead that the crooks’ Mercedes had been sitting outside the ministry all morning.
Cops put the haul at the event space, which doubles as a church, at close to $1 million, a number Whitehead disputed. The stolen items included rings, watches, necklaces and the minister’s wedding band.
“That’s nuts,” he said of the police estimate of the value of the stolen goods. “That number is nowhere near that.”
Whitehead declined to give what he said is the actual value because he doesn’t want to make himself any more of a target.
He even asked The News not to disclose the location of the interview.
Whitehead partially blames the media for detailing his lifestyle and describing his jewelry after he attempted to help safeguard a surrender for a murder suspect earlier this year.
He made the news recently when he tried to orchestrate the surrender of Andrew Abdullah, the man accused of fatally shooting Goldman Sachs researcher Daniel Enriquez on the Q train, to the mayor.
After alerting the media, he showed up in a Rolls Royce at the precinct where the suspect was to turn himself in wearing a thick gold chain and Fendi blazer.
“I wanted to make sure a Black man didn’t get killed by the police,” he said, “because we get killed for less.”
The pastor’s expensive taste and flair for the dramatic drew skeptics in the Police Department, and cops ended up arresting Abdullah in front of the office of the suspect’s lawyer.
Whitehead’s checkered past didn’t win him any supporters in law enforcement. He served five years in prison for a $2 million identity theft scam. He was released in 2013.
“I feel like they put a target on me,” Whitehead said. “It made me look like I’m a street guy that’s playing church.”
Whitehead, who said he is an entrepreneur and earned his money in real estate, did receive support from a high-level acquaintance — Mayor Adams.
“No one in this city should be the victim of armed robbery, let alone our faith leaders and congregants worshiping in a House of God,” Adams told The News, adding that he spoke with his preacher pal on the phone shortly after the Sunday robbery. “The NYPD is investigating this crime and will work tirelessly to bring the criminals involved to justice.”
On Monday, the bishop went on Instagram offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to arrest of the robbers.
In the meantime, the NYPD told Whitehead it would station a patrol car outside the church. Whitehead also plans to step up security on his own, although the pistol permit he wants might be a problem because of his criminal record.
“Churches are getting shot up,” he said. “And these guys could have killed me. They had a gun to my head. If he thought that I was trying to resist, we’d be talking about my funeral today.”