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Wednesday, July 25, 2007 09:03 am

His mysterious ways

Religious leader indicted for failing to abate asbestos

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Shane Stewart says he stopped working on duplexes in Auburn when Ray Landers failed to pay him for work already completed.
PHOTO BY DUSTY RHODES
Untitled Document Ray Landers has a God-given gift for making money. According to his Web site, raylanders.com, he “carries an anointing to release understanding of the spiritual realm of finance and freedom from the world system.” Another Web site, for the Sovereign Seed, offers free seminars led by Landers with a promise to teach Christians how to “be free from the bondage of debt. . . .”
These talents should come in handy. Earlier this month, a Macoupin County grand jury indicted Landers and his Auburn-based nonprofit religious organization, Equipping the Saints Ministry International Inc., on eight counts of environmental crimes apiece. The charges, all Class 4 felonies, carry a maximum penalty of three years in prison, 30 months’ probation, and a $25,000 fine for each day the violation continues.  The charges stem from Landers’ renovation of an erstwhile nursing home in Virden. Almost four years ago, Landers used a skid loader to rip a hole in the side of the building through which he hauled out wallboard, insulation, and old heaters, releasing potentially-injurious asbestos particles [see Dusty Rhodes, “Demolition man,” Dec. 1, 2005].
 This crime may not seem serious, but James Walsh, an attorney in the environmental crimes section of the Illinois Attorney General’s office, says it is.
  “It’s very dangerous — you’ve exposed the community to asbestos,” Walsh says. “You’re setting these people up to get mesothelioma or asbestosis. With mesothelioma, the lungs get encapsulated and a person can’t breathe. It’s a real horrible death, actually.”
  Despite his purported financial anointment, Landers has been unwilling or unable to pay for the abatement of the asbestos mess in Virden. In response to a civil lawsuit filed against him by Attorney General Lisa Madigan in 2004, Landers pledged to hire licensed environmental engineers to plan and carry out a cleanup of the contaminated property. However, he has repeatedly claimed that the property owner — Equipping the Saints — lacks the funds to pay the engineers for the cleanup.
  Thomas Davis, chief of Madigan’s environmental crimes bureau, calls the situation “extremely frustrating.”
“There’ve been sporadic efforts by Landers and his non-profit corporation to obtain qualified firms to come in and abate the asbestos, but I assume the decision not to allocate the money has led to all the delays,” he says. “Since we filed this case, he’s been to Australia, he’s been to Africa, so he apparently has funding for these trips.”
Landers’ attorney, Ed Rees, says funding for a cleanup depends on donations.
“They’re a religious corporation. They’ll just be having to get people to donate money,” he says. Asked if Landers could answer questions about how this plan might work, Rees said he would advise him not to. Landers will plead not guilty.   Meanwhile, Landers appears to be embroiled in another expensive and debt-riddled venture — a new real estate development on Clover Lane in Auburn, where he planned to build seven duplex homes. Rees says Landers’ “family members” control this project, with no participation from Ray Landers. However, contractor Shane Stewart claims he was hired by Landers to do foundation and concrete work, as well as framing. Stewart says he stopped working on the project after Landers failed to pay him $175,000 for work already completed. Rees says Stewart’s work was unsatisfactory. Stewart has resorted to picketing the site and even showing up at Landers’ church for a worship service, where, he says, his presence practically doubled the ranks of the congregation. Stewart says he was then forced to leave by Auburn police.      “I don’t think the man’s all there,” Stewart says. “I think he’s just conned and tricked his way around stuff for so long that he feels like he’s doing no wrong.”
     
Contact Dusty Rhodes at drhodes@illinoistimes.com.
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