HELENA – A Hamilton pastor charged with securities fraud filed court documents Monday saying state officials in the case routinely denigrate conservative Christians as “whack jobs,” and that he’s the victim of “selective prosecution.”
Harris Himes, charged a year ago after an investigation by state Auditor Monica Lindeen’s office, said he has statements from two former auditor employees showing that decision-makers in the office “engage in acts of religious bigotry almost daily.”
Himes, a prominent, vocal opponent of abortion and gay rights in Montana, said this bias against conservative Christians led to the charges against him, and that other securities fraud suspects who aren’t prominent Christians got easier treatment from Lindeen’s office.
Himes said he plans to ask that the charges against him be dismissed, because such “selective prosecution” is improper. He asked District Judge Loren Tucker of Virginia City to order Lindeen to produce further office documents and information, which he said will help bolster his case.
Lindeen’s office denied the accusations Monday, and said it charged Himes in collaboration with Ravalli County authorities, after an investigation showed that Himes and another man had defrauded a church member out of $150,000.
“In the end, this case will be decided on facts, not politics,” said Lucas Hamilton, spokesman for Lindeen. “To the extent that these allegations delay justice for the victim, that is disappointing.”
Himes, a pastor at Big Sky Christian Center in Hamilton, faces six felony charges, including theft, fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud. He has pleaded innocent to all charges.
The state filed the charges in September 2011 against Himes and James “Jeb” Bryant, after a church member complained to authorities that he had given the men $150,000 to invest, but couldn’t recover any of his money.
The charges say Himes and Bryant told the man the money would be invested in a factory in Mexico, but that no such factory existed. Bryant remains at large and is believed to be somewhere in Mexico, state officials said.
Himes turned himself in after the charges were filed and is free on his own recognizance.
Himes’ court filings Monday included information from two former employees at Lindeen’s office, described as “whistleblowers,” one of whom said she was “appalled by the unethical actions and anti-Christian bias she witnessed in the auditor’s office.”
Most of the accusations were leveled at Lynne Egan, Lindeen’s deputy securities commissioner.
Himes’ documents said Egan determined whether charges are filed in securities cases, that she “bases charging decisions on emotions,” had referred to Himes as a “whack job” and “right-wing Christian” and had said all organized religion is “a fairytale.”
Hamilton said that Egan denied in a sworn statement that she’d made derogatory comments about Himes, as described in the document filed Monday.
Hamilton also noted that the charges were brought on behalf of a victim who was a member of Himes’ church and a devout Christian, thus debunking any accusation that the office is biased against Christians.
Missoulian State Bureau reporter Mike Dennison can be reached at 1-800-525-4920 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.