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Former Cranberry pastor ousted from California church

Wednesday, September 13, 2000

By Steve Levin, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The saga of former Cranberry pastor Richard Rossi, a tale of hirings, firings, an attempted-murder charge and a subsequent mistrial, has taken further twists in his adopted state of California, where he has been ousted from his latest church and picketed by an anti-gay group.

For the past several months, Rossi has been conducting services in his three-bedroom townhouse in Long Beach for a handful of followers. He was fired in January after 2 1/2 years as pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church when a group of church members changed the building's locks and filed a civil suit against him charging, among other things, that Rossi failed to let them know he'd been charged with beating his wife almost to death in 1994 along a rural Pennsylvania road.

Although a mistrial was declared in that case, Rossi, then pastor of the First Love Church, pleaded guilty to aggravated assault. Sentenced to four to eight months in prison, he served 96 days plus four years of probation.

This March, in an effort to generate support for Rossi, some of his backers organized a protest against his dismissal, utilizing the minions of pastor Fred Phelps of Kansas, who has made a name for himself with virulent anti-gay demonstrations around the country. Much to Rossi's chagrin, however, Phelps' protesters railed against Rossi's lenient attitude toward homosexuals when he was pastor of the church.

The best news Rossi has had this year was that the civil suit against him was dropped. It charged him with illegally changing Immanuel Baptist Church's bylaws and converting more than $10,000 of church funds for personal use.

"We decided, what's the sense of throwing good money after bad," said Rebecca Birmingham, the Long Beach attorney representing church members who had filed the suit.

Neither Rossi nor his spokesman, Jeffrey Griffith of Long Beach, could be reached for comment. One of Rossi's attorneys, James M. Ecker of Pittsburgh, said he was unaware Rossi had been fired from the church. Ecker said he last spoke with Rossi a month ago.

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