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Man sentenced in $7 million Orange County church fraud

Associated Press
Feb. 10, 2004 • Wednesday February 11, 2004

A 35-year-old man was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for his role in creating phony churches in Orange County that bilked charity donors of $7 million.

Timothy James Lyons of Huntington Beach smiled and said goodbye to relatives as he was escorted from the courtroom after Monday’s sentencing by U.S. District Court Judge David Carter.

Carter refused to let Lyons out of jail as he awaits his prison assignment.

“I consider him a danger to the community, quite frankly,” the judge said.

A federal jury in November found Lyons and childhood friend Gabriel Bernardo Sanchez, 37, guilty of 33 counts of mail fraud and 10 counts of money laundering. Sanchez is scheduled to be sentenced March 8.

Prosecutors said the scam began in 1993 when Sanchez started the First Church of Life in Costa Mesa. He used the facility to register numerous phony charities that did not have tax-exempt status, prosecutors charged.

The men are accused of pocketing the contributions from hundreds of donors who thought they were giving to causes such as AIDS research and programs for families of police officers killed in the line of duty. The men hired telemarketers and used mass mailings to raise money, prosecutors said.

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