Traveling evangelist gets prison time for scamming Tyler-area church
From the Smith County District Attorney’s Office
TYLER, Texas - On June 30, 2022, a Smith County jury convicted Livingstone Zitha (DOB: 01/04/1970) of South Africa for felony theft from a local church.
Zitha was charged with scamming a Tyler area church into providing love offerings of several thousand dollars for his ministry. Smith County prosecutors Noah Coltman and Emil Mikkelsen presented evidence that Zitha claimed to pastor a 5000 member church in Johannesburg, South Africa and that he ran a large orphanage. According to Zitha’s promotional materials, a donation of $250 would allow his ministry to feed a child for one year. While Zitha was described as a captivating personality and dynamic preacher, none of the money he raised ever made it to any ministry.
Church members testified that they became suspicious of Zitha after he stayed with the church for two months and was having an increasingly hard time giving precise details about the ministry. Prosecutors called two United States Secret Service agents from South Africa who explained to the jury that Zitha’s ministries were fraudulent. A local pastor from Springs, South Africa also testified that he had never heard of Zitha, his church, or his orphanage.
Zitha’s bank records showed that he primarily spent the love offerings on fast food, coffee, car washes, and other personal expenses. “He ate 21 children’s yearly meals in less than one month, and that is sickening”, prosecutors told the jury in closing argument. The jury also heard evidence that Zitha had defrauded many other churches.
After the verdict, Livingstone was sentenced to three years in prison. The Smith County Criminal District Attorney’s Office thanks Detective John Partlow, the United States Secret Service’s South Africa Office, and the Smith County Sheriff’s Office for their work on the case. The DA’s Office also cautions people to exercise extreme caution before donating money to anything related to Zitha’s active non-profit organization – Livingstone Zitha Ministries.
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