A judge has ruled that the owners of a non-profit Christian investment company committed fraud and called for them to repay $11 million to investors they swindled in Arizona and 11 other states.
The administrative-law judge also said that Chandler residents Ed Purvis and Gregg Wolfe should pay $250,000 in fines for their part in operating Nakami Chi Group Ministries.
The judge’s ruling must be ratified by the Arizona Corporation Commission, which regulates securities and oversees corporations in the state. The commission is scheduled to vote on the Nakami case before the end of the year.
The ruling crowns a three-year investigation by the Corporation Commission into Valley-based Nakami, which investigators say targeted churchgoers as part of a Ponzi scheme, including at least one pastor, church elders and members of Chandler Christian Church and Vineyard Church in Avondale.
None of the principals could be reached for comment Friday. Purvis has denied any wrongdoing.
Wolfe last year agreed to turn state’s evidence and admitted to investigators that he and Purvis for years funneled millions of dollars in investors’ money into offshore accounts as part of the scheme.
Tony Senarighi of Prescott, a one-time investor who testified against the pair, said he was pleased with the ruling. “They are crooks,” said Senarighi, who invested $50,000 with Purvis and later got it back from him. “They took other people’s money. … There was a lot of deception here.”
The civil ruling could lead to a criminal-fraud investigation into a case that has already involved accusations of fraud, bribery of a police officer, harassment of public officials and a series of bizarre legal filings against lawyers, a judge, investigators and a reporter.
A Ponzi, or pyramid, scheme is an investment scam that uses money from new investors to pay old investors. Authorities said that, while he promised investors 24 percent annual returns, Purvis was dipping into their money to buy cars and jewelry, make a down payment on an $800,000 home, and pay gambling debts and other personal expenses.