John Bishop, the former lead pastor of Vancouver’s Living Hope Church, is facing a federal drug charge in U.S. District Court in Southern California for allegedly trying to smuggle more than 280 pounds of marijuana into the country from Mexico.
The 54-year-old was arrested Dec. 11 after he was stopped about 5:25 a.m. by U.S. Customs and Border Protection while re-entering the country through the port of entry at San Ysidro, Calif. Bishop reportedly told border patrol agents he was driving to Chula Vista, Calif., according to a probable cause affidavit filed in the case.
While conducting a routine inspection of Bishop’s gray Volkswagen Jetta, the officer found packages hidden in a wheel well. A narcotics detection dog was summoned and subsequently alerted officers to the undercarriage and trunk of the car, the affidavit states.
The car was taken apart revealing 105 packages weighing 281.88 pounds that field-tested positive for marijuana. Packages were removed from the car’s bumpers, rear seat, dashboard and at least one wheel well, the court document said.
Bishop was taken into custody and charged with unlawful importation of a controlled substance, according to a complaint filed Dec. 12 in U.S. District Court.
He entered a not-guilty plea Jan. 4 to the one count, and his trial was set for Feb. 8. He is being represented by Gerloni Cotton with the Federal Defenders of San Diego.
Bishop was released from federal custody Jan. 9, the Federal Bureau of Prisons website shows. Court records indicate that he posted $25,000 bond.
The arrest marked a spectacular fall for one of Clark County’s most dynamic and successful clergymen.
A petition for legal separation filed by Bishop’s wife, Michelle, on Jan. 2 in Clark County Superior Court states that he now lives in San Diego, Calif. — where his release documents say his travel is restricted to — and asked the court to find that their marriage ended Dec. 11, the same day he was arrested.
Efforts to reach Bishop on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
A family member who contacted The Columbian on Tuesday afternoon said Michelle Bishop and her children have been bombarded by phone calls and asked that people respect their privacy.
The Bishops started Living Hope Church in 1996. It grew to be one of Clark County’s largest, attracting thousands of worshippers each week. They targeted “people who don’t do church” and Christians who might be in need of grace and second chance. Under Bishop, the church staged elaborate sermons, including a nativity with a live camel. Bishop once appeared onstage with a 350-pound live tiger.
The church, now along Andresen Road, is nicknamed the “Kmart church” because it occupies a former Kmart building.
After 19 years, Bishop stepped down as senior pastor in November 2015 after allegations of moral indiscretions. The church did not go into detail about the indiscretions, but Bishop had said he went “off the grid” while on a mission trip over the summer of 2015 in Los Cabos, Mexico. Court records show that he and his wife owned a vacation home there.
At the time, Bishop said he planned to seek alcohol abuse treatment, according to Columbian archives.
“As a church, we continue to pray and hope the best for John Bishop,” Living Hope Church Executive Pastor Doug Frazier said in a written statement issued Tuesday. “Ties have been cut for over two years, and we continue to pray for him regularly and do not harbor any ill will.
“We are so thankful to now be in a financially healthy and stable place and to have the opportunity to serve our community. Living Hope continues to have a daily impact on our local community — from feeding the homeless and shut-ins, and serving those in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse to offering a variety of ministries and worship services seven days a week.”
At the time of Bishop’s departure, Living Hope faced financial difficulties, including a mortgage. Madore Properties, a company owned by local businessman David Madore, stepped in and purchased Living Hope Church’s building for about $4.75 million in October 2016.