ORLANDO, Fla. —For the past decade, Jeremiah Cummings says, he has made a modest living as an Orlando-based evangelist who traveled the globe to encourage people to deepen their faith.
Then, he said, he was tricked into appearing in front of a movie camera with political comedian Bill Maher and was falsely portrayed in Maher's comedy documentary "Religulous" as a flashy, gold-loving evangelist.
Since the movie came out about a year ago, Cummings said, his life — and work — has been a struggle.
He has sued. He has been sued. His speaking engagements are down. He can't pay the rent on his family's five-bedroom home in the Rio Pinar community, court records show.
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"All of these things that have happened have hurt the ministry," Cummings said. "I'm struggling to try to keep my family together."
Cummings, 58, said he wasn't told the truth about "Religulous" when he agreed to be interviewed in 2006. Cummings, a former Muslim who converted to Christianity, said he was told he was going to be featured in a documentary called "A Spiritual Journey."
Cummings said "Religulous," directed by Larry Charles of "Borat" fame, was heavily edited to make it appear different from the actual interview.
Attempts to reach Maher were unsuccessful. Last year, he told the Los Angeles Times how he got people to talk to him: "It was simple: We never, ever used my name. We never told anybody it was me who was going to do the interviews. We even had a fake title for the film."
Cummings filed suit against Lions Gate Entertainment in Orlando federal court. Cummings claimed he was not told the truth about the film and his "true character was totally distorted ..."
Cummings sought $50 million in damages. Both sides agreed to dismiss the case.
"I didn't want to make a circus out of a circus," he said. "I'm trying to just leave it alone."
But his troubles didn't end.
A North Carolina man and woman filed suit against Cummings in June, claiming Cummings used a church he set up in Raleigh a few years ago as a "breeding ground to recruit women who could support his exorbitant need for money and material things."
The evangelist, formerly a member of the 1970s Philadelphia soul group Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, said the allegations from Elsie Carter and Rodney-Daryl Jones are "not accurate."
He said the suit was filed only after Carter thought he was getting a financial settlement with Lions Gate. Cummings insists he received no money from the company.
Cummings does not pastor a church in Orlando. In North Carolina, Cummings' church never had more than 100 members, he said.
In their suit, Carter and Jones also claim Cummings' alleged fraud caused Carter to lose more than $400,000.
The suit claims Cummings, who led Amazing Life World Outreach, engaged in romantic relationships with Carter and other church members, "which fostered confusion and disruption of the church."
About that time, Cummings legally divorced his wife of 24 years — they eventually reconciled and remarried — but he says he was not "seeing anyone."
The suit claims Cummings misused church donations and spent the funds on himself.
And it also claims Cummings lied and deceived church members to think he was married to a co-pastor. Attempts to reach that woman were unsuccessful.
Cummings said Carter tried to have a romantic relationship with him.
"All of this is about some woman who had money who wanted to have a relationship with me and I wouldn't have one with her," he said.
In December 2007, Cummings told Raleigh police Carter threatened him, a Police Department spokesman said. Cummings also filed a no-contact order against Carter.
"I believe that this is a woman who was stalking me and who was obsessed," Cummings said.
But Carter says Cummings lies and is trying to establish himself as a family man.
In a statement to the Orlando Sentinel, Carter said Cummings "duped" her out of money under the auspices of starting a religious-record label. She also disputes Cummings' claims of her wanting a relationship.
"I am as infatuated with Mr. Cummings as a foot model is infatuated with toe and foot fungi," Carter stated.