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Our view: The Montgomery criminal indictment

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It’s disappointing, depressing and demoralizing to see someone with a great deal of potential and promise, someone who had gained and benefited from an abundance of public trust, seemingly succumb to the type of temptation that requires legal prosecution. So many of us are feeling, no doubt, at this point in Derwin Montgomery’s story, following his indictment on federal charges last week.

Montgomery began his life in public service at an early age, winning a seat on the Winston-Salem City Council at age 21 just before he graduated from Winston-Salem State University in 2009. He won second and third terms before being picked to replace Rep. Ed Hanes in the state legislature in 2018. He served as executive director of the Bethesda Center for the Homeless, as a government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and is pastor of First Calvary Baptist Church.

He’s just the kind of accomplished, positive community leader we like to recommend. His future looked bright.

But the charges against him are serious and extensive. As the Journal’s Michael Hewlett reported, “On Aug. 29, a federal grand jury indicted Montgomery on one charge of wire fraud based on allegations that Montgomery embezzled a total of $26,299 between 2018 and 2020, while he served as Bethesda’s executive director. The indictment lists at least $23,940 in allegedly inappropriate expenses. Those expenses include $1,666 to travel from Charlotte to Cancun, Mexico; a $1,076 stay at a hotel in Los Angeles; $260 for expenses incurred at Sapphire Las Vegas Gentlemen’s Club, a strip club; and more than $21,000 for services from Uplift Media LLC, Montgomery’s media company. Uplift Media LLC was defunct in 2018.

“The indictment alleges that Montgomery ignored Bethesda’s policies regarding conflict of interest that would have prohibited Montgomery from charging Bethesda for services from his media company. The indictment said Montgomery either charged Bethesda for services Uplift Media never performed or overcharged the nonprofit.”

Politicians should really just stay away from Cancun.

Montgomery has offered a vigorous defense, claiming that he’s done nothing wrong. He said that he had left nonprofit Bethesda in better financial shape than it had seen in its entire history. He said he had receipts to back up his statements. He also said that during his time as executive director at Bethesda, “all of my actions and service was consistently reviewed and presented to those who had oversight of me as an executive director.”

We hope it’s so. That would help his case.

But if not, he faces a hefty penalty.

“The charges against Mr. Montgomery carry with them the presumption of innocence,” one of Montgomery’s attorneys, Chris Clifton, said. “We expect voluminous discovery and are working diligently to prepare his defense. We would like to thank the U.S. Attorney’s office, the U.S. Marshals (Service) and U.S. Probation for making his release today an efficient process.”

It’s not likely that Montgomery would be charged with these crimes unless the government had a storehouse of evidence to back the charges.

But this is why we have courts: to go through the evidence, hear the arguments and make a sound judgment.

The trial won’t be held until later this year and until then, Montgomery is free.

If Montgomery is found guilty, we’ll mourn, as we would for any community leader whose desire to help was somehow clouded by personal gain.

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