The suspects ran what federal regulators have described as a $160 million Ponzi scheme.
WASHINGTON — A member of the board of an Orlando-based Christian ministry was one of five people arrested in an alleged Ponzi scheme to take at least $160 million from evangelical Christians, using money promised for ministries to buy homes, a yacht and a helicopter, federal regulators charged.
Torsten Thomas Henschke, 48, a minister and member of the board for Orlando-based Christ For All Nations, was arrested along with Gregory Earl Setser, 47, and three other associates of IPIC International Inc. and related companies, by agents from the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service.
Henschke was described as the international director of IPIC Atlantic. He was taken to the Seminole County Jail, where people arrested in Central Florida on federal charges are held.
In a federal criminal indictment unsealed Tuesday, the five were charged with one count each of securities fraud and two counts of money laundering.
Christ For All Nations, the ministry of televangelist Reinhard Bonnke, and other high-profile televangelists and Christian churches were among those thought to have invested in the scheme, according to a related civil complaint filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Bonnke’s ministry is “assessing the situation,” but has no comment at this time, according to Peter Mariades, executive administrator for U.S. operations in Orlando.
IPIC, also known as International Product Investment Corp., is incorporated in Nevada and based in Ontario, Calif.
The SEC claimed IPIC and Setser promised investment returns of as much as 50 percent to benefit Christian ministries but actually ran a Ponzi scheme to support Setser’s extravagant lifestyle.
In all, the SEC estimates the group pulled in at least $160 million during the past three years.
In a Ponzi scheme, money from new investors is used to repay earlier investors.
Mark Pinsky and Amy Rippel of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report.