Pastor to Talk in Fraud Case
July 19, 2004
E. Scott Reckard, Times Staff Writer
ReligionNewsBlog.com • Monday July 19, 2004
His lawyer says he will answer questions about Gregory Setser, accused of taking $160 million from Christians.
Orange County pastor Ralph A. Wilkerson has agreed to answer questions about a former associate accused of raising more than $160 million from evangelical Christians in an elaborate international investment fraud, Wilkerson’s attorney said.
Wilkerson, 77, was criticized last month by a court-appointed receiver who said the pastor had failed to help recover assets that would benefit people left destitute by the alleged scam run by Gregory E. Setser, an Inland Empire-based entrepreneur.
The receiver, Dennis Roossien, has called Wilkerson, who founded the Melodyland Christian Center near Disneyland, “the single largest promoter of Greg Setser’s business activities.”
Wilkerson’s attorney said last week that he planned to discuss with Roossien the assistance his client could provide.
“Dr. Wilkerson is a victim of Greg Setser, like so many others,” the attorney, Michael R. McDonnell, said in an interview. In a recent letter to Roossien, McDonnell said that Wilkerson would “do nothing to hamper your investigation.”
Wilkerson introduced the Bible-quoting Setser to a circle of prominent televangelists and teamed up with him last year to write the unpublished book “Making Million$ for Ministry: The Biblical Philosophy of Prosperity of Greg Setser.”
In a criminal indictment, the U.S. Justice Department has charged Setser, four of his relatives and an associate with fraud, conspiracy and money laundering in connection with an alleged scheme that promised investors profits in an import-export business, IPIC International.
Setser and the others have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial in Dallas. Their lawyers could not be reached for comment.
Roossien said he wanted Wilkerson to answer questions and use his contacts to help recover millions of dollars in allegedly phony profits that Setser paid some investors.
So far, investors who came out ahead in dealings with Setser’s Ontario-based company have voluntarily returned more than $3 million to a compensation fund for others who lost their life savings, Roossien said.
Faith healer Benny Hinn and associates of televangelist Marilyn Hickey are among those who have repaid their winnings and encouraged others to follow suit, Roossien said. Although Wilkerson appears to have lost money on his dealings with Setser, the receiver said he could help sort out the debacle nonetheless.
“He could be a lot more effective than I could in approaching potential donors,” Roossien said. In the letter to Roossien, attorney McDonnell said: “Please be assured of Reverend Wilkerson’s cooperation and if you have questions you need answered, please feel free to put them in writing, address them to me and you will receive a response.”
According to Roossien, Wilkerson invested $680,000 with Setser and was paid back slightly less than $240,000.
A nonprofit headed by Wilkerson, Millennium Missions, invested at least $400,000 in about 20 of the joint-venture deals that Setser promoted and received about $125,000, according to the receiver.
Records show that Wilkerson took out a $750,000 mortgage in June 2003 on his Dana Point home in a gated community near the Ritz-Carlton hotel. McDonnell said Wilkerson invested that money with Setser.
Setser was arrested last November at his home in Rancho Cucamonga after a federal grand jury in Dallas indicted him on one count of securities fraud and two counts of money laundering. His company had been founded in Texas.
Also arrested in Rancho Cucamonga were his wife, Cynthia Faye Setser; their daughter-in-law, Charnelle Setser; and Gregory Setser’s sister, Deborah S. Setser. An associate who worked in Orlando, Fla., T. Thomas Henschke, also was arrested.
All pleaded not guilty and are free on bond.
In a superseding indictment filed July 7, prosecutors added a sixth defendant, Joshua Nathan Setser, son of Gregory and Cynthia. Authorities say he has not yet entered a plea. He could not be reached for comment.
Roossien said authorities had recovered more than $8 million for the receivership, in addition to the $3 million returned voluntarily to the special compensation fund.
The $8 million includes cash from domestic and foreign accounts and proceeds from the sales of a yacht, a helicopter, two planes and several houses that the Setser family had purchased.
Partially offsetting those funds are legal and other expenses that total at least $2.3 million so far, he said.
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