Universal Life Church Minister Faces Fraud Charges

Allen Elfman, a 41-year-old website designer, radio personality and former Sedona, Arizona, school board member, was charged by Yavapai County authorities in Arizona on March 24, 2009, with impersonating a justice of the peace and having married at least two couples without a license.

Elfman became ordained over the Internet through the Universal Life Church in 2004, which he claimed gave him the authority to conduct and perform weddings. On his website, he allegedly held himself out as a justice of the peace and as a "wedding officiant." He has since deleted that reference.

Arizona authorities charged Elfman with fraud, criminal impersonation, forgery, tampering with a public record and theft. He had admitted to receiving fees from $250 to $650 to marry couples, and that he had married four or five couples since 2004.

Elfman has maintained that he was not a justice of the peace but that the Universal Life Church permitted him to perform weddings and that a separate company had apparently mishandled his credentials. A review of the Universal Life Church's website, does advertise that the organization provides all the resources and credentials one needs to become a "marriage officiant." It does not mention anything about becoming a justice of the peace, however, which is an elected position in Arizona that requires that the candidate complete a course at an accredited law school. An Arizona justice of the peace is akin to a municipal court judge, who can administer oaths, perform marriages, issue evictions, and hear civil suits up to $10,000 and small claims cases.

Elfman may well offer a defense to the fraud, tampering and theft charges in that he adhered to Section 25-124 of the Arizona Revised Statutes in performing marriages by becoming ordained as a minister, and that it was through no fault of his own that his ordination was not legally recognized. However, if he did hold himself out as a justice of the peace, his defense would fail as he would have clearly misrepresented himself, having made a false or deceptive statement intended to mislead people for his own benefit or profit. Even if he believed that his ordination qualified him as a justice of the peace, his ignorance of Arizona law would provide him no relief.

If you face fraud charges or other criminal charges, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at The Baker Law Firm to talk about your case, possible defenses and your rights.

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