Bilked investors of $10 million
KELOWNA, B.C. — Three Central Okanagan residents have been told to appear before the B.C. Securities Exchange Commission to face charges of an investment scam connected to the New Life Church in Kelowna.
It’s alleged that a ‘Ponzi’ pyramid scheme cost investors more than $10 million, including $2 million in losses incurred by Okanagan residents who bought into the scheme.
John DeVries, who ran the investment program under Amber Enterprises; Ralph Bromley, president of the Hope for the Nations (HFTN) charity — which is run by New Life Church (NLC); and Wesley Campbell, a director of Hope for the Nations and New Life Church pastor, have been summoned to face a commission hearing.
The commission alleges they acted “contrary to the public interest” and will seek fines against them.
Also called before the commission are David DeVries, John’s son who lives in the Turks and Caicos Islands, and Reed Gafke of Texas.
“There were over 100 (investors) here,” said one Kelowna investor, who asked not to be named.
“Some people put second mortgages on their houses. Some were single moms who lost everything. There are some human stories that are terrible in this.”
Investment money was raised among members of the church by John DeVries through two companies: Amber Enterprises and Wealth for the Nations (WFTN).
The investments failed after the U.S.-based partner of Amber and Wealth for the Nations — Gregory Setser and his company, IPIC International — were indicted by the Securities and Exchange Commission in the United States.
The U.S. government alleges Setser illegally raised $160 million from investors associated with evangelical Christian congregations.
The commission’s filing states that Setser has spoken in Kelowna at Wealth for the Nations investment seminars organized by DeVries, where Setser promised investors returns that were higher than anything they could make in the stock market.
John DeVries also lives in the Turks and Caicos Islands as well as having a residence in B.C.’s Peachland.
He could not be reached for comment on the allegations.
A Ponzi scheme is a type of illegal pyramid named after Charles Ponzi, who duped thousands of Americans into investing in a postage stamp speculation scheme in the 1920s.
New Life Church is located on Highway 97 in the Okanagan.
Hope for the Nations is a registered charitable organization operated largely by members of New Life Church.
Wealth for the Nations, which is based in Barbados, is the governing body of Hope for the Nations, reports the commission.
“Many of the investors in Amber were members of NLC, affiliated churches or regular contributors to HFTN,” said the filing by the commission.
“Campbell and Bromley both used their positions as pastors of NLC to solicit investments in Amber by members,” It said.
Neither Campbell nor Bromley were available for comment Friday.
Malcolm Petch, an elder of the church, issued a written response Friday.
“As you can imagine, those who lost money, including those named in the (B.C. commission’s) notice of hearing, were devastated and embarrassed by the developments that came to light in late 2003.
“We believe that our church members were acting from the heart to give, and to help children in need,” wrote Petch.
“The church continues to support all of our members and stands with them as they walk through these matters.”
He said Bromley, Campbell and John DeVries have pledged to co-operate with the regulatory bodies.
In a Dec. 13, 2003, story in The Okanagan Saturday which first brought the situation to light, DeVries stated in a letter to investors that his company in B.C. “was in no way aware of any of the alleged wrongdoing by Greg Setser.
“This does not mean that our business is finished; rather, we are transforming and developing plans to go forward,” wrote DeVries. “We would very much appreciate your joining us in prayer for the wisdom of the staff and the efforts of the government regulators and others involved in the investigation and recouping of assets.
“You have the unwavering commitment of the WFTN and Amber team to conduct all areas of our business prayerfully, honestly, with every ounce of wisdom God entrusts to us.
“Thank you for your prayers demonstrating you really are in this with us for Kingdoms sake.”
The alleged wrongdoing occurred between the spring of 2002 and November 2003.
No date has been set for the commissions hearing.
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