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Minister at secretive N Carolina church sentenced for fraud

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — A minster at a secretive church in rural North Carolina has been sentenced to 34 months in prison and ordered to pay more than $466,000 in restitution for his role in an unemployment fraud scheme involving businesses owned by church leaders.

Kent Covington is a minister at the Word of Faith Fellowship in Spindale. He was sentenced Thursday in U.S. District Court in Asheville on one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud.

The development follows an investigation by The Associated Press that documented claims of fraud and abuse at the church.

Prosecutors say Covington decided to lay off his employees so they could collect unemployment benefits in 2008 when the company was struggling financially. But the employees continued to work at the companies, with the unemployment checks replacing their salaries.

Mitch Weiss And Holbrook Mohr, The Associated Press