Herman Jackson called himself a modest servant in the kingdom of God.
The self-described “bishop” earned a new title Wednesday in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman.
“You are a convicted felon as of now,” Coleman told him, moments after a jury found Jackson guilty of fraud.
For more than a decade, Jackson built “nothing short of a fraud empire, brick by brick,” a federal prosecutor said earlier.
Assistant U.S. Attorney William Ridgway called on the jury this week to finally “mark an end” to the scheming of the high-rolling Cicero preacher who called himself the bishop of a struggling church, lived in a Georgia mansion, and warned Coleman two years ago about the “wrath of God.”
After more than a full day of deliberations, the jury obliged. It convicted Jackson and his wife, Jannette Faria, on every count in an indictment that accused them of fraud and lying to the feds. Moments later, Coleman ordered Jackson taken into federal custody until sentencing based on the “total history” of his case.
Jackson, who dismissed his attorney three days into his two-week trial and represented himself through closing arguments, faces a significant prison term at a sentencing hearing set for Dec. 21. He showed no visible reaction as the judge read aloud the 13 “guilty” verdicts against him. He later embraced his wife, who was convicted of eight counts, before U.S. marshals led him away.
Matt McQuaid, who represented Jackson for years and served as stand-by counsel throughout the trial, declined to comment after the verdict. His former client contended that he’d been targeted unfairly by local, state and federal agencies.
Faria’s lawyer said she planned to appeal.
“While I respect this jury’s decision, I disagree strongly that there was enough evidence to prove Jannette Faria was a knowing participant in the fraud, and we intend to appeal the verdict,” attorney Heather Winslow said.
The feds accused the couple of scamming hundreds of thousands of dollars in child-care subsidies out of Illinois through day care centers connected to Jackson’s church, the Ark of Safety Apostolic Faith Temple. Inspectors complained the centers were infested with roaches, lacked hot water and smelled of urine. They said they even found electrical cords submerged in water.
Following the couple’s 2012 indictment, Jackson found himself living inside his red-brick Cicero church building after no family or friends were willing or able to take him in. Coleman eventually let him move to Georgia in 2013 while awaiting trial. But she only did so after shooting down multiple requests from Jackson.
In his most memorable stunt, Jackson used the Chicago Sun-Times to send a message to Coleman after she initially refused to let him reunite with his family down south.
“Because of Judge Sharon Coleman’s continual mocking of God’s ecclesiastical order and the sanctity of family/marriage, the wrath of Gold almighty shall soon visit her home,” Jackson told a reporter.
Jackson later said the comment was not a threat. He offered a rambling apology to the black judge, called her a “Nubian queen” and denied that the “wrath” he referred to meant “blowing everything up.”
“It is the wrath of a father chastening a daughter or a son,” he said in 2013. “My God told me that he would talk to you about me being separated from my wife.”
The Sun-Times later revealed that Jackson, despite the financial struggles of his church, had once lived in a Georgia mansion boasting seven bedrooms, five fireplaces and a three-car garage in one of Atlanta’s most desirable areas. His attorney said Jackson had roommates to help split the $6,000 monthly rent four ways.
But Jackson was the only tenant on the lease, and that document authorized only the preacher and his family to live there. Jackson signed it four months before his fraud ended in the Chicago area in August 2011. He would be evicted the following spring. Court records also show Jackson has had two Mercedes — one bought in his Cicero church’s name — and a Jaguar. A bankruptcy filing showed a Bentley was repossessed from the church in 2009.
In Cicero, prosecutors said Jackson “flooded” an agency working with Illinois with “dozens and dozens” of documents filled with “clear, black and white lies” in order to put their hands on state child-care subsidy money.
“Once the spigot was on, the defendants did whatever they could to put it on full blast,” Ridgway said this week.
Jackson kept a Bible by his side as he called and cross-examined witnesses throughout the trial. He told jurors during his closing argument that several witnesses lied on the stand. But he focused his ire on FBI Special Agent Laura Miller, repeatedly pointing to her in the courtroom and calling her a liar. He even chanted her name at one point over a prosecutor’s objections.
The preacher claimed he had an agreement with parents who enrolled children at his church’s day care centers to bill the state even for days the children didn’t attend. And he said he used aliases like “Henry Walker” and “Henry Richmond” to hide his identity because of discrimination he’d experienced from Cicero and Illinois officials.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Madden ultimately convinced the jury that Jackson was “the biggest liar in this courtroom.”
“He is buried in incriminating evidence,” Madden said.