Fraud Archive

You'll find articles about this subject in each of the items listed, even if the term does not necessarily occur within the headlines or descriptive text.

Scientology vs. Google * Pastor bilks woman * Christian Pagans?

A fresh, Friday edition of Religion News Briefs:

bullet David Vernon DeFor, pastor at the Austin Church of Christ faces five felony charges after allegedly bilking an 82-year-old woman with dementia out of more than $40,000.

If convicted of all charges, DeFor faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.

bullet A woman who was sexually assaulted during a counseling session with Brian L. Williams while he was a pastor at Sunbury Grace Brethren Church in Ohio has won a $3.6 million jury verdict.

The jury found that the church was negligent in supervising Williams, who in August 2008 was sentenced to 8 years in prison.

bullet No faith is immune to bad apples: Devout pagan David Novakovic King stole £22,000 ($33,500; €25,600) from his girlfriend’s father before decapitating him and burying his body in woodland.

bullet Many Christians Are “Pagan” claims Philadelphia Archbishop:

A new evangelization must start with the sober knowledge that much of the once-Christian developed world, and even many self-described Christians, are in fact pagan. Christian faith is not a habit. It’s not a useful moral code. It’s not an exercise in nostalgia. It’s a restlessness, a consuming fire in the heart to experience the love of Jesus Christ and then share it with others — or it’s nothing at all.
– Archbishop Charles Chaput, addressing the Junipero Serra International Convention in Mallorca, Spain, June 22, 2013

As the excellent article points out, to many it is the term “pagan” that stands out.

Before you react, make sure you read the quote in context.

bullet Time for a trip to Fantasyland: Scientologists have met with Google’s top honcho Sergey Brin to ask him whether Google would filter out bad press about the cult, er, ‘church.’

Do they have any idea how much computer power that would take? Almost all press about Scientology is bad news for the gang — except, of course, for the barrage of ‘press releases’ the church is spamming all over the place in the hope of getting a positive word in edgewise.

Say Google, how about filtering out that crud?

Listen to former top level Scientologist turned whistleblower, Geir Isene explain Scientology’s history of trying to manipulate the internet:

Does that sound like the bridge Scientologists are trying to sell leads anywhere?

bullet Call for papers: The International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) will conduct its 2014 Annual International Conference jointly with Info-Secte/Info-Cult of Montreal in Washington, D.C., July 3-5. The theme is Governments, Human Rights and the Cult Phenomenon.

ICSA is the primary network of lay and professional cult experts.

Incidentally, this year’s ICSA International Conference takes place in Trieste, Italy, July 4-6. One of the tracks will examine various aspects of the question “Are there cultic aberrations in the Catholic Church?

bullet Speaking of cults, here is an excellent series of articles about the House of Judah in rural Allegan County, Michigan.

We’re talking 30 years ago, but John Agar, of the Grand Rapids Press, writes

Survivors and authorities alike say the nightmare of that place still haunts the living.

What started out as a communal group of “black Israelites” living under the leadership of a self-proclaimed prophet devolved into a place of despair, where punishment for minor transgressions was meted out in the form of public beatings and disfiguring burns, survivors and investigators say.

It was a place where armed guards roamed the perimeter, and children were padlocked into a collection of trailers at night.

Former U.S. Attorney John Smietanka, now a private attorney, said the House of Judah differed from a Nazi concentration camp in Poland only in its scale.

bullet A Pakistan court has acquitted a pastor accused of insulting Islam because the pastor’s accuser has told the court he was mistaken.

That’s an unusual occurrence in a country widely criticized for its blasphemy laws, which are often used to persecute religious minorities.

bullet Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, a senior accountant in the Vatican’s financial administration, has been arrested as part of a corruption investigation into the Vatican Bank.

He is suspected of trying to help rich friends bring millions of euros into Italy illegally.

Just last Wednesday Pope Francis set up a special commission of inquiry on Wednesday to reform the Vatican Bank.

bullet Quick: What is the formal name of the Vatican Bank?

If you answered the Institute for the Works of Religion, give yourself ten points — fifteen is you knew the Italian name: Istituto per le Opere di Religione

bullet Mormon bishop Julius Blackwelder has been sentenced to 46 months in prison after he pleaded guilty, last February, to money laundering and wire fraud.

Blackwelder ran a Ponzi Scheme, accepting money from church members and associates which he invested in commodities and a mansion he was building. He paid back some early investors with money from later ones, but eventually lost everything — more than $1.5 million.

Many Ponzi Schemers target fellow church members, colleagues or club members in what is known as ‘affinity fraud.’

bullet In an op-ed guest column in the New York Times, T. M. Luhrmann, a professor of anthropology at Stanford, writes:

In 2005, Time magazine called C. S. Lewis the “hottest theologian” of the year — 42 years after his death. That same year, a cover story in Christianity Today hailed him as a “superstar.” To this day Lewis, who published the first of his children’s books about “Narnia” in 1950, remains deeply compelling for many evangelicals, more so than for Catholics and mainline Protestants. Why?

If you’re not familiar with the writings of C.S. Lewis you’re missing out. His Chronicles of Narnia form a good introduction.

Or you may wish to delve into Mere Christianity — home for Lewis’ famous trilemma: Was Jesus a lunatic, a liar, or Lord?

His satirical Screwtape Letters, a dialogue between a senior devil and his junior apprentice are enjoyed even by those who don’t shares Lewis’ faith.

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SEC says ‘Social Capitalist’ ran Ponzi scheme targeting church members

Religion News Blog — A self-described “social capitalist” who has appeared on national TV talk shows was charged on Thursday with fraud by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for an alleged $11 million Ponzi scheme that targeted socially conscious churchgoers.

According to Reuters

The SEC said Ephren Taylor II fraudulently sold $7 million of notes, said to bear 12 percent to 20 percent annual interest rates, to fund small businesses such as laundries, juice bars and gas stations.

It said Taylor, 29, also raised $4 million by selling “sweepstakes” machines loaded with casino-style games, with promised returns of 72 percent to 2,400 percent per year. The SEC said Taylor’s company, City Capital Corp, would promise to donate some revenue to charity.

In reality, according to the complaint filed in Atlanta federal court, Taylor diverted money to promote his books, hire image consultants, fund his wife’s singing career a nd pay bi lls.

The SEC said Taylor had touted himself as the youngest black chief executive of a public company, and the son of a Christian minister who emphasized the importance of “giving back.”

It said he had conducted a multicity “Building Wealth Tour” in which he spoke to congregations such as the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia, and appeared on TV programs such as “The Montel Williams Show” and “The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch.”

Last October 10 members of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in the Atlanta suburb of Lithonia sued their pastor, the controversial ‘bishop’ Eddie Long, for encouraging members of the church to invest in the scheme.

Their lawsuit says the “church marketed, sponsored and hosted ‘Wealth Tour Live’ seminars in October 2009.” The suit says that the 10 investors together lost $1 million, and contends that Eddie Long and New Birth church used their “confidential/fiduciary relationship” to “coerce” the church members into investing with Ephren Taylor. The suit is ongoing.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes

What has been uncovered so far appears to be “widespread fraud,” said attorney Jason Doss, who represents the plaintiffs. “If you speak to our clients, they were very active in their church and put a lot of weight in what Bishop Long said. He [Taylor] touted himself as a teenage entrepreneur and prodigy. The types of investments he peddled were supposed to be socially conscious. He used all the bells and whistles and terms that would attract a church-going person.”

An attempt to seek comment Thursday from Long was met by a response from New Birth. In a statement, the church said: “Although this has been a very difficult process for all involved, we have always remained faithful that Ephren Taylor and City Capital Corporation would be held accountable for their actions in this matter. We are prayerful that they will move swiftly to do the right thing and heal and restore all those who have been harmed by their actions.”

Last year, Long made an unusual video that was posted on YouTube on behalf of several members who he said faced financial hardships because of investments that went awry.

Long urged Taylor and the company to “do what’s right” and return the invested money with interest.

How Ephren Taylor promoted his scheme

Eddie Long is a leading proponent of the so-called Prosperity Gospel.

PONZI SCHEME
In a Ponzi Scheme existing investors are paid from funds obtained from new investors, rather than from the promised return of whichever venture the investors thought they were investing in.

This pyramid scheme was named for Charles Ponzi, who duped thousands of New England residents into investing in a postage stamp speculation scheme back in the 1920s.

AFFINITY FRAUD

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission says affinity fraud refers to investment scams that prey upon members of identifiable groups, such as religious or ethnic communities, the elderly, or professional groups. The fraudsters who promote affinity scams frequently are – or pretend to be – members of the group. They often enlist respected community or religious leaders from within the group to spread the word about the scheme, by convincing those people that a fraudulent investment is legitimate and worthwhile. Many times, those leaders become unwitting victims of the fraudster’s ruse. These scams exploit the trust and friendship that exist in groups of people who have something in common.

Examples of affinity fraud (articles)
You Won, Now Give It Back: How Ponzi schemes work (article)
Ponzi’s Scheme: The True Story of a Financial Legendoffsite (book)
What is a Ponzi Scheme? (article)
You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man: How Ponzi Schemes and Pyramid Frauds Work… and Why They’re More Common Than Ever (book)
Religion-based scams take Lord’s name in gain (article)
Affinity Fraud: How To Avoid Investment Scams That Target Groups U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (article)