A Brooklyn preacher has been robbed of jewellery worth hundreds of thousands of dollars by armed men who crashed his church service just as he was delivering a sermon about keeping faith in the face of grave adversity, according to police.
Bishop Lamor Miller-Whitehead, known for his friendship with New York City Mayor Eric Adams and driving around New York in a Rolls-Royce, was speaking at his Leaders of Tomorrow International Ministries when three robbers walked in, police said.
They allegedly flashed guns and demanded property from Bishop Whitehead and his wife before fleeing in a white Mercedes.
In a video of the service, which was being live streamed but has since been removed from the church’s social media channels, Bishop Whitehead is heard asking his flock: “How many of you have lost your faith because you saw somebody else die?” moments before the men enter the church.
He is then seen dropping to his hands and knees and repeatedly saying, “Alright, alright,” before a man wearing a black face mask and holding a gun enters the frame.
The man is seen approaching Bishop Whitehead, who is hiding behind a gold-coloured lectern, and stuffing the bishop’s jewellery into his pockets.
Police said the jewellery was worth about $US400,000 ($575,000). Bishop Whitehead it was worth more than $US1 million.
Bishop Whitehead said in a video posted to Instagram that he had felt a “demonic force” enter the church and wasn’t sure if the gunmen “wanted to shoot the church up or if they were just coming for a robbery”.
“When I see them come into the sanctuary with their guns, I told everybody to get out, everybody just get out,” he said.
The 44-year-old formed Leaders of Tomorrow International Ministries in 2013, after serving a five-year prison sentence for identity theft and grand larceny. He says he was illegally convicted.
He grew close to Mayor Eric Adams, a former police captain, when Mr Adams was serving as Brooklyn’s borough president — a position he held for eight years until becoming New York’s mayor in January.
A city hall spokesperson said Mr Adams had spoken with Bishop Whitehead after the robbery on Sunday.
“No-one in this city should be the victim of armed robbery, let alone our faith leaders and congregants worshipping in a House of God,” Mr Adams said in a statement.
“The NYPD is investigating this crime and will work tirelessly to bring the criminals involved to justice.”
Speaking again on Instagram, Bishop Whitehead defended his extravagant lifestyle, saying he was “going to live his life the way God has it set up for him”.
“It’s not about me being flashy,” he said.
“It’s about me purchasing what I want to purchase. And it’s my prerogative to purchase what I want to purchase.”
He has offered a $US50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the robbers.
The Associated Press contacted Leaders of Tomorrow International Ministries for comment.