Man, 3 others accused of conning a thousand Christian investors
Prosecutors rested their case against a former Canton merchant and three others Thursday afternoon after two months of testimony focused on how a faith-based Ponzi scheme bilked millions out of evangelical Christian investors.
Gregory Setser, two family members and a business associate are accused of defrauding more than a thousand investors who poured $173 million into his profit-sharing import company, IPIC Investments Inc., from 2000 to 2003.
During the last two months, more than 70 witnesses testified for the government about IPIC’s meteoric rise and disastrous fall. In the meantime, Mr. Setser’s wife, Cynthia Faye, and oldest son, Joshua, pleaded guilty to their roles in the scheme. They have yet to be sentenced.
Defense attorneys will begin calling their own witnesses today.
Mr. Setser, 49, faces up to 45 years in prison if convicted of defrauding ministries and churchgoers through the Los Angeles-based import-export business, while financing an extravagant lifestyle for himself and his family.
Along with Mr. Setser, two other family members face similar charges: Deborah Setser, his sister; and, Charnelle Setser, a daughter-in-law. Also charged in a 22-count indictment is T. Thomas Henschke, a German citizen and former missionary who ran part of IPIC’s operation out of an office in Orlando, Fla.
Joshua Setser, who pleaded guilty to one count of fraud on the opening day of the trial, provided the most direct testimony last week about the inside dealings of IPIC as part of his plea agreement with prosecutors.
With his father sitting 30 feet away, the younger Mr. Setser told jurors that Gregory Setser admitted that IPIC’s ventures were a sham and said “that everything he was telling investors wasn’t true.”
“He was using the investors’ money to pay off the older investors,” Mr. Setser said, recalling a conversation in 2001 that he had with his father over the huge amounts of money coming into IPIC.
“It got out of control,” he told jurors. “Too many investors coming in, he [Gregory Setser] was trying to sort it out, but he wasn’t going to stop” soliciting investor money.
When prosecutor Jeff Ansley asked him if anyone ever ordered or bought IPIC products as was described to investors, he said: “Nobody.”
The government has accused Gregory Setser of using millions in investor money to support a lavish lifestyle after moving IPIC from Canton to Southern California in 2000. That lifestyle included a yacht, a helicopter, luxury cars and homes.
Investors had been promised that their money would only be spent on providing capital for purchases of foreign products in pre-arranged sales to major retailers in the U.S.
In exchange for that capital, IPIC promised to split its profits with investors to help fund ministries. Many investors testified in the last two months that they took a chance with IPIC based on endorsements and high praise from well-known evangelists like Benny Hinn, Reinhard Bonnke and Ralph Wilkerson..
Much of IPIC’s sales pitch centered around pre-arranged sales of imported goods to large retailers, none of whom could confirm they ever bought any products from IPIC.
Defense testimony is expected to last about a week.
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