Lupe Davila, Former El Mirage Pastor Ousted by Members, Threatens Lawsuit Over Lost Church
A church member removes Davila's life-size self-portrait off the wall.
Monica Alonzo/Phoenix New Times
Guadalupe Davila, known to his former parishioners as Pastor Lupe, is threatening court action against church members who ousted him from the El Mirage church his father shepherd for some three decades.
It appears that Davila hired Wayne Gardner, an attorney at the Mesa offices of Gunderson, Denton & Peterson, P.C., to write a letter threatening legal action against Rod Hennig, who is vice president of the church's board of directors, if he doesn't sign a deed relinquishing any claims to the church property.
The letter -- which misspells Rod Hennig's first and last names -- is also addressed to Donna Hennig, Rod's wife, even though she is not on the church's board.
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We reached out to Gardner several times, but he did not return phone messages or e-mails.
In his July 31 letter, Gardner writes:
I am informed that you recently fraudulently signed and recorded a Special Warranty Deed from Primera Iglesia Bautista Camino al Cielo to Luz Del Cielo. This was done fraudulently and without authority to do so.
He asked them to notarize and sign another deed restoring the church back to the name Camino al Cielo, and presumably, back to Davila.
The new board members didn't put the church building in any individual's name. The church building remains property of the church. They tell New Times they formally incorporated it and changed the name of the congregation.
Gardner's letter informs the Hennigs that if his law firm doesn't "receive the signed and notarized Quit Claim Deed within 20 days of your receipt of this letter," it will file a complaint with the Maricopa County Superior Court asking "the court confirm my client's interest in the subject property and will seek an award against you for my client's attorney's fee and costs incurred ... as you have no legal right or interest in the property."
Hennig sent an e-mail reply to Gardner on August 7:
"As to your unfounded claims about a special warranty deed, I need to refer you to [Maricopa County Deputy Assessor] Frank Contreras ... He can explain that the Assessor's Office accepted, and approved any, and all documents. Thus, they ruled on the authority, and issued a letter of confirmation of all issues involved."
Davila's battle to get back into the church comes after he was tossed out by church-goers fed up with, among other things, his sexual involvement with church members, what they described as his lack of financial transparency, his use of an invalid tax identification number to collect donations of food and other items from local business, including Costco, and threats he was allegedly making to church members who asked questions about how he conducted his and the church's affairs.
Some of the threats, they say, are documented in text and Facebook messages sent by Davila.
Several church members did what Davila hadn't done since he took over Primera Iglesia Bautista Camino Al Cielo in 2009, shortly after his father, Guadalupe Davila Sr., passed away.
They established a formal board of directors with executive officers, including a treasurer to oversee church finances. They filed paperwork with the county and state to incorporate the church as a non-profit entity. And they created a set of by-laws to legitimize and guide church operations.
Then, they changed the locks on the church, cleaned out Davila's belongings and posted a "no trespassing" sign meant specifically for him.
Other revelations about Davila that prompted church members' actions included their learning that he had an order of protection against him from one of the church members who he'd been sexually involved with, and had been arrested for aggravated harassment because he repeatedly violated that order of protection.
Davila pleaded guilty in May to violating the order of protection and was ordered to attend domestic-violence-intervention counseling and pay more than $650 in fines.
They also later discovered that Davila is a former Goodyear police officer and a felon who was busted in 1998 for stealing money earmarked for drug buys while he was working undercover on a special task force connected to the FBI. He pleaded guilty and spent five months in a federal prison near Seattle in 1999.
They became aware that he had cleared out a checking account with about $3,000 -- money donated for the children's center. They say they were troubled that Davila wouldn't allow anyone to look at church bank statements.
And, while church members were trying to take back their place of worship, one church member who Davila had previously designated as an "elder" notarized a deed and filed it with the Maricopa County Assessor's Office in an attempt to transfer ownership of the church building personally to Davila.
The Maricopa County Assessor's Office sent a letter to Davila informing him that they were rejecting his attempts to transfer the church building into his name because the church member who tried to sign it over to him had no authority to do so.