Local pastor $4.7M in debt

Ahlemann, wife file for bankruptcy in a ‘difficult time’

By Sally Voth — svoth@nvdaily.com

HARRISONBURG — Strasburg pastor and businessman James L. “Jay” Ahlemann has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

Ahlemann and his wife, Patricia, filed the petition on Oct. 27, according to online court documents. Chapter 7 of the U.S. bankruptcy code governs liquidation of property.
According to the filing, the couple has assets totaling $283,325 and debts of nearly $5 million.

On Friday, Ahlemann said it “has been a very difficult time for me.”
“I have endeavored to save a Christian television network, WAZT, here in the Shenandoah Valley,” he said.

Ahlemann came to town about five years ago, starting the non-denominational Church of the Valley initially in the Wayside Inn in Middletown before building a new 20,000-square-foot church off of Va. 55 (John Marshall Highway) several years ago.

That church is known for its three lit crosses — one is 150 feet tall — visible for miles along Interstate 81.

In a January 2006 interview, Ahlemann said he was paid a six-figure salary as pastor of the First Church of the Nazarene in Pasadena, Calif. He said he was the highest-paid Nazarene pastor. Additionally, he would travel to other churches for a $5,000 fee, Ahlemann said.

Before that, he spent more than a quarter-century at an Ashburn church he and his wife started, Christian Fellowship Church.

Since coming to Shenandoah County, Ahlemann, as president and managing partner of JLA Media and Publications LLC, bought the AZTV Network of Christian television stations, including WAZT-10 in Woodstock and WAZW in Winchester.

Additionally, he bought the old Toms Brook Middle School and surrounding land for $385,000. Less than a year later, the school was back on the market. Ahlemann later turned the property back over to Toms Brook School Renovation LLC.

“It was a lease-purchase option to buy it, and, so, I was in the process of pursuing the possibility of development of the school, and with the downturn of the economy … I just did not renew the option to purchase it,” he said in January 2009.

And, on Thursday, Shenandoah County Circuit Court Judge Dennis L. Hupp ordered JLA Media and Publications to pay $360,000 plus unpaid back interest after defaulting on payments for WAZT, according to a consent order.

The Ahlemanns’ assets include their home on Courtney Circle in Strasburg and a property in High View, W.Va., according to the bankruptcy petition. Other property includes two handguns, furniture, and a surrey worth $4,000, it says.

However, Ahlemann has a large amount of credit card debt, including $12,711 owed to American Express, $10,977 to AT&T Universal and nearly $36,000 to Capital One, according to the bankruptcy filing.

Additionally, numerous individuals and couples are owed millions of dollars by the minister, according to the filing.

It shows that a family trust out of Indiana is owed $173,123, a Fulks Run man is owed $654,113, a woman in Texas is owed more than $1.1 million, a Strasburg resident is owed $782,875, and a South Carolina couple is owed $300,000, among numerous other creditors.

Ahlemann said that his attorney and financial advisers recommended he file for bankruptcy.

“My wife and I have lost everything that we have, and we have borrowed money from individuals believing that we could somehow turn this television network around, but we haven’t been able to do so,” he said.