Two men have been arrested and face federal robbery charges in relation to the July 24 robbery of Bishop Lamor Whitehead as he gave a sermon at his Canarsie church, authorities announced Wednesday.
The New York City Police Department announced the arrests of Juwan Anderson, 23, of Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Say-Quan Pollack, 23, of Bergen Beach, in connection to the July 24 robbery at Leaders of Tomorrow International Ministries in Canarsie. Whitehead was in the midst of delivering his Sunday sermon when, authorities allege, Anderson and Pollack busted into the church and wielding firearms.
The pair allegedly held Whitehead and his infant daughter at gunpoint, the preacher has claimed, and nabbed $1 million worth of jewelry from him and his wife before fleeing. The sermon was being livestreamed, and hundreds of horrified onlookers watched the incident play out on their computer screens.
Both Anderson and Pollack were arrested at their residences on Sept. 28, said NYPD Chief of Detectives James Essig at a press conference. A third, unnamed co-conspirator is still at large. Anderson and Pollack could face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if convicted.
Anderson and Pollack were arraigned in Brooklyn federal court Wednesday in front of Judge Ramon Reyes, and charged with Hobbs Act robbery, conspiracy, and possessing a firearm in a crime of violence; both pled not guilty to all charges, but are in discussions with the government on a potential plea deal.
Pollack was ordered detained without bail, while Anderson was released on a $50,000 bond posted by his mother.
The motive for the robbery remains unclear, but Essig said the NYPD and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, which assisted in the investigation, believe it was simply a crime of opportunity given Whitehead’s ample collection of expensive jewelry.
“If you look there’s a pattern throughout the city, high-end jewelry robberies,” Essig said. “The pastor livestreams, he has high-end jewelry, we suspect it’s that.”
The pastor, wearing a muted grey suit with green checks, a ruby ring, and a gold watch, said that he had never seen nor heard of either defendant before facing them in the courtroom.
Whitehead’s penchant for flashy bling and bizarre statements turned the robbery into an international story, with Whitehead himself being deemed the “bling bling bishop” by the press, he posited. He was the frequent subject of rumors he had faked the incident, declaring Wednesday that the media’s framing him as a “villain,” rather than a “victim,” had ruined his family’s life and tanked his reputation.
“This is a win today because the narrative that was posted and presented that I had something to do with this robbery,” Whitehead told reporters outside court following the arraignment. “And it has destroyed my life. This was turned around from me being a victim to a villain. And today, God gave me and my family the victory.”
“I’m a smart, well-rounded, young Black man. And to be looked at as a villain instead of a victim really traumatized my family and traumatized my church,” he continued. “I’ve lost so many members because of the fear of coming back to church, because of people just walking into church after July 24 doing what they want to do.”
“I’m hoping that this clears a lot of things up with my name, as far as the world believing I’m a villain instead of a victim,” he said. “It hurts.”
He noted that his family has finally returned home after being put up in a hotel for their safety, and in recent weeks, someone had attempted to rob his New Jersey home and steal his car.
The bishop, who arrived at court in his white Rolls Royce, has since filed lawsuits against two individuals whom he says defamed him on social media, seeking $20 million in damages from each, according to public court filings.
In September, Whitehead was arrested after getting into a physical altercation with a woman during another livestreamed service. The bishop was quickly released, and the woman involved in the fight was charged. He denied on Wednesday having choked or scratched the woman, as has been claimed.
Whitehead, who previously ran for Brooklyn Borough President, considers Mayor Eric Adams a friend and mentor, and made headlines earlier this year when he attempted to facilitate turning in fugitive subway shooter Andrew Abdullah directly to the mayor.
The tarnishing of his personal reputation also hurt his business and political specters, as well. He said no one will work with him in real estate anymore, and politicians, including the mayor, no longer call him.
“I haven’t heard from the mayor in a while,” Whitehead noted. “I believe that a lot of people were scared off, I think a lot of people were scared off because of the picture that I was painted, to be involved in this heinous crime.”
What hasn’t changed, however, is Whitehead’s taste for the luxurious: even if he was specifically targeted due to his well-known penchant for expensive bling, he said he will not be scared out of dressing how he wants.
“I should be able to wear what I want to wear. I should be able to dress the way I want to dress,” he said. “When you look at the Pope, his robes are nearly $50,000, you know. But there’s no talk about that, at all. But me, as an African-American young man, I’m ridiculed, I’m called different names.”
Anderson and Pollack are due back in court for their next hearing on Oct. 28 at 11 am.