A Georgia pastor and his wife have been arrested for allegedly confining eight differently-abled people in their basement and taking charge of their finances.

Curtis Keith Bankston, 55, and his wife Sophia Bankston, 56, have been accused of running "an unlicensed group home or personal care facility under the guise of a church known as One Step of Faith Second Chance," the Griffin City police department said in a press release.

Paramedics responded to a report of a patient having a seizure at a home in 102 Valley Road in Griffin around 6:51 a.m. on Jan. 13. Upon arrival, first responders found the door to the basement where the patient was dead-bolted and the only access point was a window.

The first responders notified the Griffin Police Department. Upon investigation, the officers found eight people with some form of mental or physical disability in the basement. The people were "locked in" the basement at certain times of the day by their "caretakers," the Bankstons.

The couple had been leasing the property for about 14 months. They were using the basement as a "personal care home" for the individuals and allegedly "imprisoned them against their will."

"Individuals could not exit the residence if there was an emergency," the police department said.

Investigators found that the couple had taken control of the individuals’ finances, medication and public benefits. At times, they even denied medication and medical care to those confined in the basement, police said.

The pastor was arrested on Jan. 13 while his wife was arrested Thursday, a week later. Both the suspects have been charged with false imprisonment.

However, Curtis Bankston has denied the allegation through his attorney, Derek Wimbish. "At no time was anybody held against their will. There was no kidnapping," the Atlanta Journal-Constitution quoted Wimbish as saying..

"There is no fraud here. This is simply a Christian man who was following his calling to help those who are in need. We cannot sit by and allow the ministry to be attacked," Wimbish added.

According to the attorney, the basement was locked every night at 8 p.m. as an added security measure. He added that one resident had a key to unlock the door, however, that individual was not at the home on the morning when the paramedics arrived.

"That is poor judgment, it is unfortunate, it is likely a violation of a local ordinance," Wimbish said, the Journal reported. "But it is not kidnapping, and it’s not false imprisonment."

Police Line
Representational Image AFP / Johannes EISELE