RIPON — For nearly a decade, members of Ripon’s First Congregational Church poured out their souls to Pastor Randall Radic.
“The church was basically senior citizens, people in their 80s, 90s and close to 100,” said David Prater, who led the church board during Radic’s tenure. “He was their favorite son.”
That changed a year ago, when Radic pleaded guilty to betraying his flock and selling the tiny town’s oldest house of worship and its rectory out from under them. He used the money to buy himself a BMW and a laptop, exploits he later chronicled in a blog about his double life as a sinner.
“We didn’t know anything until we got a call from the bank that he had bought a BMW,” said Prater. “He drove that car right down Main Street.”
Irate parishioners had been rooting for a lengthy prison term at his sentencing, scheduled for Thursday. But Radic’s lawyer said last week that the former pastor will avoid any additional jail time because he agreed to tell prosecutors about the alleged murder confessions of a jail mate. And the saga of the First Congregational Church is far from over, as ownership of some of the property is still tied up in lawsuits that show no sign of a resolution.
“Most of the congregation, being a good Christian congregation, has forgiven him. But there are still things happening to the church that we can’t understand,” said Judy Edwards, who took over as pastor in September. “If the parsonage was stolen, why isn’t it being returned”
Radic was once a fixture in downtown Ripon, a quiet town of 1940s-era homes and tree-lined streets just off California’s Highway 99, where semis thunder down the San Joaquin Valley.
Parishioners said he favored literal interpretations of the Bible and emphasized love and grace in his Sunday sermons. So there was never any reason to suspect that he was plotting to sell off the wooden, 90-year-old chapel and the church-owned house where he lived.
“This is a town with a lot of faith,” said Navid Fardanesh, president of the Ripon Chamber of Commerce. “People had a lot of trust in him, and unfortunately he took advantage of the situation.”
First, Radic faked documents giving him possession of the parsonage, then used the property to take out about $200,000 in personal loans, prosecutors said.
After forging a corporate resolution saying he had the power to sell the church, he sold it to a Manteca couple for $525,000 and used some the proceeds to buy himself a brand new, black BMW and a laptop. The rest of the funds were eventually seized by authorities or lost in escrow fees and brokers’ commissions, the couple’s attorney said.
“It’s rather bizarre,” said San Joaquin County Deputy District Attorney Phil Urie. “He apparently saw it as a source of money for himself.”
After investigators began inquiring about the car, Radic fled to Denver. Prosecutors coaxed him back to San Joaquin County, where he was arrested in November 2005 and served six months in jail as he awaited trial.
It was in jail that Radic met Roy Gerald Smith, a registered sex offender awaiting trial in the 2005 murder of a 46-year-old Ripon woman _ a death penalty case.
According to Radic’s blog on a now-defunct Internet site, the former pastor gained Smith’s confidence, and he confessed that he was guilty of the murder.
Radic told his lawyer, who soon struck a deal: Radic would plead guilty to embezzlement and be released from prison; and prosecutors would drop nine other felony charges in exchange for Radic’s testimony against Smith, Urie said.
As he awaited sentencing from the comfort of his home, Radic started blogging about his personal life. He tried to solicit a literary agent for a tell-all book he called “SNITCH” and in the process spelled out the details of how he fleeced his flock.
Describing the proposed memoir as “a kind of new Bible,” Radic wrote that “true-crime shall have a container in which to wallow, a boat which, when it embarks, will traverse the major oceans. Like an esoteric prayer, a Catholic confession, a Gregorian chant or a murderer’s insouciance, it will hum a tune inside one’s bones.”
Radic, who has since remarried and still lives in Ripon, did not find a buyer for “SNITCH,” but he did sign a deal last month to publish a book called “The Sound of Meat,” billed as a “(fairly) truthful” memoir.
“So, you really want to know which camp I belong to...right Saint or...Sinner” he wrote on his personal Web page, which features grainy shots of a nearly naked woman and a portrait of Radic smoking and drinking. “The truth really is a lot more complicated. It leads down the winding paths of the human heart and challenges anyone who follows to defy it.”
The church got its title back last year, and parishioners have been able to worship there throughout the ordeal. But the parsonage is still owned by a real estate investor who bought it from Radic when he started defaulting on payments. The new pastor, Edwards, lives in a motor home.
Radic still faces a number of lawsuits _ by the couple who bought the church, the title company that insured loans on the parsonage, the real estate investor and the former notary public who signed off on Radic’s fake deed for the parsonage.
But criminal proceedings against him appear likely to end Thursday, when he is scheduled to be sentenced in San Joaquin County Superior Court.
“He’s very remorseful and regretful about the situation,” said his lawyer Michael Babitzke. “I think he made some egregious mistakes ... but in an imperfect world, people behave imperfectly.”