Columbus pastor accused of staging burglary to fuel drug addiction

Justin K. White (Provided Photo/Bartholomew County Jail)

COLUMBUS Ind. (WISH) — A Columbus pastor is accused of lying about his home being burglarized to collect insurance money to pay off a drug debt.

Justin White was arrested on Friday. He’s accused of staging that burglary on Dec. 18, 2016, with a male teenager he allegedly owed drug money to.

The Columbus Republic reports church elders at First Christian Church announced White’s resignation as senior minister on Sunday, and also told church members about White’s struggles with drug addiction and his efforts to get clean.

“It’s just really a complete shock to me,” said Amanda Virostko, who attends the church.

“I think it’s really sad,” said Morgan Cox, who works at a preschool associated with the church.

“I’ve always respected him and really gotten a lot out of his sermons,” said Virostko.

Church officials wouldn’t speak on camera. But Elder Steve Wiggins gave 24-Hour News 8 his prepared remarks that he read.

In them he explains White’s opioid addiction and his stint in rehab.

“This is just more evidence of the struggle that many communities are going through right now with the opioid epidemic,” said Virostko.

According to court documents, White said his home was burglarized while he was preaching at church. White told police that he returned home to find the living room TV, jewelry, an  Xbox and Wii, games, computers and money from his 8-year-old daughter’s coin collection were all gone. He filed an insurance claim for $11,460. 75, according to charging documents.

24 Hour News 8 we went to his Sunrise Drive home, but no one came to the door.

“It’s hard to believe (the allegations against White) when there’s all sorts of stories. It’s hard to believe what’s going on,” said Cox.

Charging documents contain a Facebook post authorities say White wrote the day of the burglary.

(Photo Courtesy: Bartholomew County Prosecutor/PC)

Many community members stepped in to help. The newspaper reports two Columbus police officers replaced the stolen living room TV, and two neighbor kids brought some of their piggy bank savings to give to White’s daughter.

But White allegedly told church leaders less than a week after he reported the burglary that police were accusing him of staging it. Court documents state White had the minor come to his house and make it look like the teen stole the items. White has reportedly denied those allegations.

Authorities say White and the teen set up the burglary over Facebook message. According to court documents, following a search warrant being obtained for White’s iPhone, police found internet searches for “can the police access your facebook messages?” and “When can cops gain access to my personal info on Facebook?” Additionally, he searched for “can you prosecute on circumstantial evidence” a few days later, the documents state.

In an interview with The Republic, a church elder says White thought he was being unjustly accused and turned to alcohol and then had a drug overdose, something he had been struggling with since before July 2015, when he was granted a leave of absence to deal with an opioid addiction that started soon after he was prescribed a prescription pain medication by a doctor he was seeing for headaches. Charging documents state White told detectives that in July of 2015 he overdosed on heroin and was saved by officers who gave him Narcan.

He then went to an addiction-treatment center in Minnesota for about a month and had to meet certain requirements from church leaders, according to the paper.

The Republic reports church leaders put White on an indefinite leave of absence in mid-January.

“In the end, I guess we’ll see what happens and pray for the best,” said Cox.

“We’re worshiping a perfect God, but we’re not perfect,” said Virostko.

A court date hasn’t yet been set for White.

It’s not clear if the juvenile will be charged.

As for the church, they’ve set up a search committee for a new pastor.

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