Faith healer and televangelist Benny Hinn testified in federal court Monday that he returned profits from a faith-based investment venture after learning it came from money invested by other Christians in a Ponzi scheme.
Mr. Hinn, called on behalf of a co-defendant and daughter-in-law of IPIC chairman Greg Setser to explain her role in the massive fraud, told jurors in Dallas that an investment of $300,000 of his own money earned about $165,000 in profit in one IPIC venture.
Mr. Hinn said he thought he was investing the money in paint that would be resold in Mexico.
The silver-haired evangelist testified that he pulled out of a second, $400,000 investment with IPIC when a “gut feeling” told him that something wasn’t right about the import-export business – including a $2 million yacht owned by Mr. Setser.
After a court-ordered takeover of IPIC by the Securities and Exchange Commission in late 2003, Mr. Hinn gave back his one-time profit to the SEC.
“I did not want to have anything to do with what I felt was not right,” Mr. Hinn told the jury during his hour on the witness stand. “I didn’t want other people’s money.”
Mr. 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.
Mr. Setser, 49, faces up to 45 years in prison if convicted of defrauding ministries and churchgoers alike through the Los Angeles-based import-export business, while financing an extravagant lifestyle for himself and his family.
Along with Mr. Setser, two family members face similar charges: Deborah Setser, his sister; and Charnelle Setser, his 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 a Florida office.
– The Bible, 1 Timothy 6:3-10 NIV
Mr. Setser’s wife, Cynthia, and oldest son, Joshua, entered guilty pleas after the fraud trial began in U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn’s court in early February.
Defense attorney Cheryl Wattley, who represents Charnelle Setser, called Mr. Hinn to the stand to show her client was convinced that IPIC’s ventures were legitimate since her father-in-law rubbed elbows with powerful religious leaders such as Mr. Hinn and the Rev. Ralph Wilkerson.
Ms. Wattley also played a videotape of Mr. Hinn at a ministry conference three years ago in which the evangelist prayed and “prophesied” a growing financial empire that grew from a “pyramid of people” as Mr. Setser and another investor stood on stage with him.
Mr. Hinn told jurors he had met Charnelle Setser but didn’t recall her name when he was shown a photograph of himself and the Setser family during a tour of IPIC headquarters in California.
None of his ministry’s money was invested in IPIC, the evangelist said.
In court papers filed last week, a lawyer for Mr. Hinn unsuccessfully tried to get the Israeli-born pastor a pass from testifying because he was scheduled to conduct a large money-raising crusade Tuesday in Denmark.
While Mr. Hinn offered to submit an affidavit to the videotape and testimony sought by Ms. Wattley, it was rejected.
Mr. Hinn, whose ministry underwent an IRS inquiry in 2004, moved his headquarters to Grapevine from Orlando, Fla., in 1999. He promised to build a $30 million faith-healing center in the Dallas area and raised money for it, but the World Healing Center never came to be. He has since moved his family and some of his operations to California.