False Profit: How an El Mirage Preacher Swindled Followers

Guadalupe Davila Jr. isn't standing at the pulpit of his small church in El Mirage preaching to the congregation about living a godly life. He isn't inside the baptismal font, waist-deep in water and immersing new members and cleansing them of their sins. And he's not at the church's learning center giving children a lesson about the evils of lying.

Instead, on this warm day in May, the 47-year-old is sitting in a crowded El Mirage courthouse waiting for his turn to stand before a city judge. He fidgets, crossing and uncrossing his arms and legs. He places his left ankle on his right knee and anxiously shakes his foot.

The pastor with graying hair swept up into a faux-hawk is here to answer allegations that he repeatedly harassed an ex-girlfriend.

The young woman had been his secret lover for about two years, but she ended the relationship after realizing she wasn't the only church member with whom he was sexually involved. She obtained an order of protection last November.

Davila started barraging her with calls, text messages, and e-mails almost as soon as she stopped attending Primera Iglesia Bautista Camino al Cielo, once affiliated with the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention.

He sent her hundreds of erratic communiques — one minute telling her he misses her and that God loves her and the next that she's a "fucking bitch" and a "fucking liar." In others, he writes that he's "unsettled with remorse" and that he'll pray for her.

Davila ignored a warning from an El Mirage police detective to stop the campaign, and he was arrested March 22 on two counts of aggravated harassment and for violating a court order. He spent several days, including his birthday, in a Maricopa County lockup.

He pleaded guilty in May and was ordered to attend domestic-violence-intervention counseling and pay more than $650 in fines.

His court appearance for harassment is just the latest of his troubles, evidence that a deceitful world he built has started to crumble.

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Former church members and volunteers also sit in the courtroom gallery. The once-loyal parishioners, who donated thousands of hours and dollars to refurbish the church and build up a learning center for children, pulled away from Davila just as he launched another fundraising campaign. His goal was to draw even more money from nearby retirement communities and neighboring churches.

Estranged congregation members tell New Times they believe that as they helped the church and its children, Davila helped himself to donations.

In a promotional video shot in late 2012, Davila pleaded for more volunteers, as well as for window blinds, folding chairs, a big-screen television, and "continual monthly financial support." He used stories of neglected children, photo montages of little brown faces fading in and out, and a backdrop of woeful gospel music.

"We need your help," he implored. "Do it for the little children."

They called him Pastor Lupe.

When volunteers first arrived in 2010, they were smitten by the children living across the street in a strip of worn, government-subsidized apartments. They fell in love, too, with the charismatic, suave preacher.

Without hesitation, they started to improve the learning center and give the church a facelift. They were eager to donate to the cause, opening their hearts and wallets and bringing in other volunteers.

A fundraising campaign surely would attract more of what the longtime parishioners called the "big-money people" — generous Sun City retirees.

Tens of thousands of dollars in cash, checks, gift cards, and materials poured in — not just for the learning center but for the major renovations to the church.

None of it was carefully tracked.

In fact, no one knows for sure how much money was donated. Davila may know, but during a visit to the church in May, he stood with his arms crossed tightly and told New Times repeatedly that he had nothing to say.

When confronted a second time outside the El Mirage Municipal Court about other irregularities at the church, including what appears to be an invalid tax-exempt number he used to collect donations of food and other items from local stores, including Costco, he said several times: "I don't have to tell you anything."

He also wouldn't discuss what happened to money he cleared out of a bank account set up for contributions to the children's center.

Volunteers started coming after Davila enticed a few members of Calvary Church in Surprise to go see the dilapidated church and meet its children. Word quickly spread, drawing more volunteers. Other churches decided to make monthly contributions to the poor El Mirage church.

By spring 2011, Calvary agreed to take on the learning center as part of its outreach ministry. Church volunteers called it the Nehemiah Project, after the biblical prophet said to have led the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem.

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Monica Alonzo
Contact: Monica Alonzo