California

Leader stole $11.5 million from his L.A. church — and went to Disneyland, feds say

Part of the nearly $11.5 million a former leader is accused of siphoning from the Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist, Los Angeles, ended up at Disneyland, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Federal officials say Charles Thomas Sebesta, 54, of Huntington Beach, used some of his ill-gotten gains to buy a membership at the amusement park’s exclusive Club 33, The Los Angeles Daily News reported.

The secretive Club 33 restaurant, which opened in 1967 in Disneyland’s New Orleans Square, carries a $50,000 initiation fee and $15,000 annual dues, a 2017 Los Angeles Times story on the club reports.

The dining club reportedly has a 14-year waiting list to join, according to Delish. Its multi-course meals typically cost more than $100 per person.

Federal prosecutors accuse Sebesta of stealing $11.4 million from the Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist, Los Angeles, since 2006, KTLA reported. He’s also accused of taking $34,000 from a private school.

Sebesta started working for the church in 2001 as a facilities manager, later rising to become its local chairman in control of finances, the Los Angeles Times reported.

In that role, he redirected church funds to himself via payments to fictitious companies and diverted money from the $12.6 million sale of church property in Hollywood in 2008, The Los Angeles Daily News reported.

After buying the Club 33 membership in 2010, Sebesta “hosted high-profile entertainment companies, including professional sports teams, and their employees” at the restaurant, according to the publication.

Prosecutors say he also bought a home using $2 million in cashier’s checks from the church, KTLA reported.

Sebesta faces six counts of wire fraud, five counts of bank fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft, the Los Angeles Times reported. He could be sentenced to more than 250 years in prison if convicted.

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Don Sweeney has been a newspaper reporter and editor in California for more than 25 years. He has been a real-time reporter based at The Sacramento Bee since 2016.
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