Former church treasurer held as possible flight risk

A former Las Vegas church treasurer charged with defrauding the congregation and its members out of $1.75 million was ordered temporarily detained Friday after federal prosecutors alleged he was a flight risk.

Gregory J. Olson, 48, who also served as the Calvary Lutheran Church's property chairman, will remain behind bars until Thursday, when U.S. Magistrate Judge George Foley Jr. resumes a detention hearing on whether to keep him in custody as he awaits trial.

Foley told prosecutors he wanted more information about a trip Olson is alleged to have made to Tokyo in July after he learned that he was a target of an Internal Revenue Service investigation.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Pugh told Foley that the government had evidence Olson used a ticket to travel from Chicago to Tokyo, but as of Friday was unable to determine when he returned. Olson and his lawyer denied that he made the trip and argued that his passport had been stolen.

Olson pleaded not guilty Friday to one count of wire fraud and four counts of filing false tax returns in the church scheme.

The church, which has changed its name to Amazing Grace Lutheran Church, lost about two-thirds of its membership because of the scheme and had to give up its property under foreclosure proceedings.

Some of the defrauded congregation members are in their 80s, Pugh said.

About two dozen members were in court, as Olson entered his pleas. Some jeered when he told Foley that he couldn't afford to hire an attorney. Foley temporarily appointed a deputy federal public defender to represent Olson while the magistrate reviews Olson's finances.

Olson, now living in North Dakota, had been summoned to appear in court. But Pugh told Foley the government decided Olson should be in custody after the IRS learned about the Tokyo trip.

The indictment against Olson said the ex-treasurer carried out the scheme after persuading the congregation that money was needed for remodeling

From September 2006 to March 2008, Olson took out six mortgages on church property totaling $1.75 million, the indictment alleged. The money was wired to a bank account owned by his company, Ascent Holdings, which was doing business as Ascent Financial Corp.

Olson did not disclose to church officials that he owned the company, and he paid himself $442,500 from the loan proceeds, the indictment alleged.

He also is alleged to have solicited personal donations from church members.

Olson is charged in the indictment with underestimating his income on false tax returns he filed for the years 2006 through 2009.