STEEPLEJACKING: The “Sleight of Hand” Legal Trickery Involved in Church Property Takeovers

A form of hostile takeover of church assets, which casts aside fiduciary principles and sound business practices

Today we are going to discuss a 94,169 square foot plot of commercial land at 6801 Western Avenue in Buena Park, California which is the centerpiece of an ongoing “wages” controversy between a pastor and a former church director of security. This property had been purchased 67 years ago for the purpose of establishing  a nonprofit corporation, First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park.

Wiley Drake, Pastor of First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park for 31 years

Pastor Wiley Drake:  As Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer, he is the sole signatory for the nonprofit corporation of First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park

In addition to managing his church, 74 year old Pastor Wiley Drake broadcasts an internet video show, has run a onsite homeless shelter,  and in past years entered the world of Presidential politics, and held a figurehead position of Second Vice President of the Southern Baptist Convention.

A March 27, 2015 article at states, “According to a resume provided by Drake, he dropped out of school in the ninth grade to enter the circus and rodeo.  Sidelined by a bull-riding injury, he worked on a crew building missile silos before he joined the U. S. Navy.  During a tour of duty in Vietnam, he accepted Christ as Savior.  Drake’s resume states that he attended Biola College, Golden West College, California State University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, International Bible Institute and Seminary and Andersonville Baptist College and Seminary and holds degrees in psychology, communications, theology and Christian education.”  This same article also notes that Wiley Drake “has been the pastor of the Buena Park congregation since 1987”.

Over the past two decades, Drake has been especially known for his direct assistance in helping homeless persons, by providing food and dormitories on his church’s property.  Because of long standing code violation issues, the city recently tore down those structures which had serious defects that had not been corrected.  The Orange County Register’s article of April 24, 2017 Buena Parks starts teardown of temporary homeless shelter at First Southern Baptist Church explains that story. Also of note regarding other types of monetary issues, Wiley Drake’s church had received this 2016 tax notice from the IRS (shown below).

Churches Which Are One Man Shows Tend to Cast Aside Sound Financial Checks & Balances

Over the years, legal and financial pressures have increased on the First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, for which Wiley Drake has responded by shifting the blame for poor church stewardship practices onto local and federal government agencies, who he accused of  intrusive harassment.  The end result of attempting to bypass normal legal and financial remedies  is a lawsuit  which was just filed June 29, 2018 in the Superior Court of the State of California County of Orange-Central Justice Center, by James Steven Davis, as plaintiff, against First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, Wiley Drake, and DOES 1-20, as defendants.

The lawsuit can be read at this link:  steven davis lawsuit 629 2018

As a background note to this lawsuit, in 2017, the median price of sold properties in the Buena Park area was $3 million.  In regard to First Southern Baptist Church,  Orange County tax records show a new appraised land value of $690,464 with improvements of $665,133; totaling $1,355,597.  The Religious exemption for this property was $942,716 for the 2017/2018 year, with the balance being taxable.

The lawsuit which was just filed is demanding no less than $940,000 as a judgment for unpaid wages and other related issues.  It would appear that this church is land and building rich but cash poor; thus if the plaintiff were to prevail in judgment for such a large amount it would be devastating to this small congregation of around 45 members.

First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, CA

The story behind this lawsuit is complex, and not all of the details are easily discovered in the public domain.  Nonetheless, there is enough background information that it is possible to grasp the core issues in this present legal dispute.  Because this lawsuit has just been filed, it will take time for the parties involved to present their evidence and arguments before the Judge, and possibly a jury, so it is important that we not  second guess how these complaint issues will ultimately be resolved.

The Employment Agreement

The Plaintiff, Jason Steven Davis, entered into an employment agreement with Wiley Davis on November 20, 2015.

The Issue of Why James Steven Davis Resigned From the California State Bar

Under General Allegations of this lawsuit, it is noted that around the year 2000 the “Plaintiff was in an airplane crash that placed him in a coma for over a month”, and he “remains physically disabled and has difficulty in walking and moving around”. Also stated is, “Prior to the airplane crash Plaintiff was a successful attorney.  Plaintiff has since resigned from the California State Bar due to his disability.” The lawsuit describes the duties of James Steven Davis after he became employed under a written agreement as the church’s Director of Security, also declaring that “In or around early 2017, Plaintiff demanded his full compensation from the Church which at the time was over $940,000. Drake refused to pay Plaintiff what was owed him”, for several reasons.

What is not clearly addressed by the employment agreement is what specific duties the $200/hour wage applied to.  That hourly billing amount would appear to be that of legal services, rather than representing a standard hourly rate for a security director of a small church.  According to one man who once held that security position, the compensation was free room and board.  Here is a screenshot of a portion of James Steven Davis’ Linked In page displaying his job title.Notice that Davis uses the title Director of Security and Legal Affairs.

This lawsuit complaint is summarized by a list of eight elements involving breach of contract, unlawful eviction, interference with quiet enjoyment, assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, dependent adult financial abuse, and dependent adult abuse.  Sounds fairly straightforward with regard to the employment conditions, right?  There was an employment contract, therefore there should be records of hours worked, and proof of what was paid or not paid, etc.

A Past History Which Cannot Be Ignored

But this will not be a straightforward Wages lawsuit, in my non-attorney opinion. For example, why would the attorney for the plaintiff allow line 10 under General Allegations to state “Prior to the airplane crash Plaintiff was a successful attorney.  Plaintiff has since resigned from the California State Bar due to his disability“? This assertion directly contradicts the statements made in the Attorney Search for the State Bar of California for James Steven Davis-#112906, saying, Current Status is Resigned with Charges Pending.  This attorney has resigned and may not practice law in California. 

James Steven Davis when he was Asst. Fire Marshall at Barstow Fire District

Under Status History it is noted that Davis was admitted to the State Bar of California on April 6, 1984.  As of March 19, 2004, he was NOT eligible to practice law in California.  And on June 18, 2004, Davis resigned with charges pending.  In other words, Davis did not resign because of the disability he suffered from the airplane crash which had occurred in 2000.  Was there some other “DISABILITY” which caused him to resign?

Under California Bar Journal Discipline Summaries, it states in a June 18, 2004 memo:

“A Rancho Cucamonga attorney resigned from the State Bar in June, a week before his arrest by federal authorities on charges of witness tampering, failing to file income tax returns and trying to carry a loaded handgun on to an airplane. JAMES S. DAVIS [#112906], 50, also was charged with impersonating a federal agent and filing a false statement on a loan application.”

“His resignation came three months after the Supreme Court suspended his law license March 19 for misconduct that included misappropriation, failing to account for client funds and failing to maintain client funds in trust. On March 30, he was charged with 15 counts of additional misconduct, including making misrepresentations to a court, commingling personal funds in his client trust account, failing to maintain client funds in a trust account or pay out client funds promptly, bouncing checks, improperly entering into a business transaction with a client and committing multiple acts of moral turpitude. Those charges were dismissed when Davis submitted his resignation June 18.”

“He was indicted by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles for allegedly trying to board a Southwest Airlines flight at Ontario International Airport in June 2002 with a loaded, concealed handgun. Federal prosecutors said that before boarding the plane, Davis signed a form falsely claiming he had complied with FAA regulations for carrying a gun and was authorized by the U.S. Customs Service to fly armed.”

There are more allegations in this Summary which can be read at this link.  But here is yet another interesting paragraph:

“After his home and office were searched, Davis allegedly sent threatening letters to individuals who had information about the investigation, warning he would file multi-million dollar lawsuits against them. Prosecutors said he also threatened to file criminal reports against his foes, whom he called “suspects,” and created a Website offering a $10,000 reward for their arrest and conviction.” 

“The witness tampering charge is the result of those actions.”

I found interesting, the statement of Judge Michael Marcus that Davis “acted with unabashed hubris…”.

Likewise, over the years many persons have reacted to the notoriety of publicity seeking Pastor Wiley Davis as also being something akin to unabashed hubris.

As we shall see, the problems which this church found itself in, can be largely traced back to the fact that the Pastor could sign away the property of the church with only one signature.  This is contrary to the usual checks and balances in place at many churches.  Drake and Davis operate like two gamblers playing a high stakes game in which they are against each other, as well as complicit with each other.

Wiley Drake and Steven Davis:  They were once cozy as Two Peas in a Homeless Pod

The Orange County Register article dated April 24, 2017, which had been cited earlier on the teardown of the temporary homeless shelters at First Southern Baptist, commented, “To stop the city’s effort, Drake transferred ownership of the lot in February to another nonprofit, White Horse Family Rights Council.  J. Steven Davis, the group’s CEO and a man Drake has called his ‘spiritual counselor’, met with an Orange County judge on Monday to halt the city’s plan.  The judge heard arguments from both sides, but did not stop the removal of the trailers, said Joel Rosen, the city’s director of community development.  The city expects to pay roughly $80,000 in demolition costs, not counting attorney fees, and will try to recover the costs from the church, officials said.”

The White Horse Family Rights Council, Inc. was registered with the California Secretary of State on May 11, 2016 as a domestic nonprofit for the purpose of the “protection of family rights and support family values”. The Incorporator and Agent is J. Steven Davis, BA,JD.

A website was created April 7, 2016 for this nonprofit describing their mission with this message:  CPS Child Protective Services aka Department of Children and Family Services are Government Agencies that claim to protect children from abuse and neglect.  While that may be true in some cases, White Horse Family Rights Council has learned that these Agencies, using false reports and defamatory statements against family are stealing children and selling them to get State and Federal Funding.  They also destroy families, such as the Bundy family in Nevada by putting members and(sp) jail and stealing their ranch property that the family as(sp) owned for 100 years.  As soon as an Agency contacts you and threatens to violate your Constitutional Rights, including Grand Parents Rights to your Children.  contact us so we can help protect you against illegal acts by the Government.  You are not alone in this fight.

James Steven Davis is also the CEO of LLG,Inc. or Litigation Logistics Group, Inc. and on April 17, 2017 he wrote a Contempt letter which was hand delivered to the Buena Park City Prosecutor. Take a close look at the factual claims of this letter, which present an argument based on the fact that the church property had been transferred to another legal nonprofit entity, which as it turns out was in Davis’ name.Let’s turn from events of April 2017 to 5 months later on September 12, 2017, when The Wiley Drake Show published a video entitled, 2 Prayers Please, The Church and James Steven Davis.

After signing away the church’s property to the Director of Security (and Legal Affairs), James Steven Davis via his nonprofit White Horse Family Rights Council, Inc., there was a falling out between these two men. Both men had acted out of  selfish motives when they entered into their Steeplejacking financial arrangement. But one of them is far more clever at legal scheming.Wiley Davis is sitting in his office, and at the 2.14 mark he says, “…most of you know that one demonic man by the name of James Steven Davis stole the property from this church as I sit here to day on church property.  James Steven Davis conned this pastor and this church into placing the deed in his name and it is in his name today.  We’re doing everything we can, working with Baptists, working with attorneys.  We’re doing everything we can to reverse that situation because he conned us.  He got in here, he is an attorney, he’s a disbarred attorney.  He would tell you he’s not disbarred because he is not officially disbarred; he resigned…”

(3.17)…”but he presented himself as an attorney to us and for us as an attorney that would help us fight our fight and indeed he conned us into putting the property in his name and it is in his name today…”

(4.06)  …”but the property deed is in the name of James Steven Davis, a vicious, vile, demonic man that used that property to try to borrow money and that’s why he conned me;  I won’t go into the con right now.  I was stuck on stupid, I got conned, but my motive was to help him.  He came here two years ago as a homeless man.  He came here two years ago with a lot of problems.  We helped him.  We gave him free food, free lodging and he helped us in all honesty with some legal work and he charged us a big legal bill of over $900,000, which we didn’t agree to…”

(5.23)…”the church, it was never in my name because I don’t own the church, the people own the church, but James Steven Davis took advantage of that autonomy, took advantage of what God allowed and took advantage of us and conned us and he put, I didn’t do it, he did it, he put the church in deed to himself and, and stole the church from Almighty God.  I would not want to be in his shoes knowing that I stole from God…”

On September 18, 2017 Wiley Drake reported that the police had come to the church and arrested James Stephen Davis, and on September 25 on his Facebook page he displayed a page on active warrants in Orange County, CA on James Steven Davis. The Warrant Degree was classified as a Misdemeanor for fraudulent impersonation, impersonating a peace officer and criminal contempt of court.  Bail had been set at $10,000.

On September 29, 2017 James Steven Davis sent Wiley Drake a letter regarding “Offer of Payment for Assistance on Sale of Property”.  This letter was featured in a Lonestar 1776 video on October 5, 2017.In this letter it is stated, “City will take the property if I do not sale(sp) it.  I have never had a choice on that issue.  The Church Corporation was never going to be allowed by the City to keep the property.  To buy my peace and to be Christian in my dealings I make you the following offers.  These offers are not any admission of bad dealings, and you must accept it no later than Friday, October 6, 2017 to avoid being sued by me.”

Then Davis presents several scenarios beginning with a hypothetical sale amount over $6,000,000, whereby the church would be given $1 million. The last scenario proposed is that for any sales offers under $3,000,000 he would give First Southern Baptist Church $100,000. Then he makes several conditions regarding harassment of him, etc.  Finally, Davis states, “Failure to accept this Offer will result in me making this offer public through any and all outlets I can reach, including news outlets, facebook, and the Internet.  You turning down up to One Million Dollars would be difficult to justify.”

Earlier in this article, I had mentioned that the median sales price in Buena Park for 2017 was around $3 million.  The county had appraised the property and buildings at around $1,356,000.  The church is 67 years old, and the city had to spend $80,000 to remove the homeless shelters, which they were going to charge back to the church.  The IRS sent them a tax bill for almost $54,000. For years this congregation has been below capacity, so that it is probable that offerings barely cover basic expenses for property upkeep. I would like to see a bona fide appraisal of this property before I would believe Davis that a real buyer  would offer $6 million for this property!

On December 22, 2017 Lonestar 1776 rebroadcasts a Wiley Drake video called Another Attempt to Shoot and Kill Pastor Wiley S. Drake.At the 1.26 mark, Wiley Drake explains, “…this morning there was an attempt on my life, an attempt to kill me because of my testimony and because of what I do for the Lord.  Many of you know we have been in a long-going legal battle with one man by the name of James Steven Davis.  Just yesterday, the Attorney General of the State of California said that they find that all the transactions related to the property were the sham transactions by Mr. Davis for his own personal benefit.  None of the transfers were for the benefit of First Southern Baptist Church or the White Horse Family Rights Council, nor were the transfers fair and reasonable or in the best interest of the First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park...”

(2.37)  “The Attorney General finds each of these transactions to be void and in violation of the Supervision Act and the California Corporation Code.”

(2.53)  “James Steven Davis had made three other attempts on my life and had put paperwork together practicing law as a disbarred attorney and tried to take over this church property.”

(3.55) ( referring to James Steven Davis, the homeless man)…”was still living here at the shelter and he came back late last night and bedded down at the shelter and it was my decision as the executive officer of the First Southern Baptist Church and Messianic Fellowship to indeed serve those papers that the Attorney General gave to me to pass along to James Steven Davis.

Wiley Drake sounds the shofar through a window he opened to a sleeping Davis, when he decided to take it upon himself to act as a Process Server of Legal Documents.  Can we blame Davis for waking up irritated and grabbing his gun as a reaction to Drake’s stunt?

“So this morning on the 26, oh, the 22nd day, excuse me, 22nd day of December I went over to the room where the homeless man James Steven Davis was residing and had locked himself in and I opened the window near his bed and I sounded the Biblical shofar and said, “Wake up!  I need to serve these papers to you and I will not repeat what he said, because he used vile filthy language, but in his style, filthy, he said, “I will shoot and kill you and he put a gun right almost touching my nose, and so I backed away.  I’m not a hero, I didn’t want to die and I asked him though and I handed him the paperwork through the open window, as he sat there on the bed with a gun in his hand.  So he attempted to kill me and I called the Buena Park Police Department and the Buena Park Police Department are good guys and I called 911..”

6.10  “They arrested him, they took the gun away from him…(the police) filed an emergency protective order.”

9:14  “…James Steven Davis, obviously I ask you to pray an imprecatory prayer upon him. that was the fourth time he has attempted to shoot and kill me and the police had to be called.”

10.3  “Please pray for this demented soul who wants to kill God’s anointed pastor, Wiley Drake.”

Recently on Steven Davis’ Facebook page, this comment was seen:

So Davis’ attorney thinks this is a straight forward easy case?

He is in for a surprise, in my non-attorney opinion. Both the Plaintiff and the primary Defendant in this lawsuit are definitely gamechangers of the third kind, and a close encounter with either man will reshape one’s perceptions of the Universe.

UPDATE JULY 29, 2019  Mr. James Steven Davis has sent me a copy of the latest court document in this case, which can be read here.

js davis v first so bap ch drake