Manhattan court orders resentence in religious investment scam

NEW YORK — An appeals court said Wednesday it had no reason to find evangelical Christians unusually susceptible to fraud as it ordered a new sentencing for a great-grandmother who received 14 years in prison for duping investors nationwide of nearly $2 million in a religion-laced fraud.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan upheld the convictions of Roberta Dupre, 62, and her accomplice, Beverly Stambaugh, 56, but ordered them resentenced.

Dupre last year was given 14 years in prison and Stambaugh nine years. Judge Denise L. Cote in Manhattan imposed the harsh sentences after concluding they manipulated people who had strong religious beliefs but little money.

A jury took less than three hours in October 2004 to convict Dupre and Stambaugh of cheating 1,000 investors by promising them a cut of the late Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos’ fortune, a gain of $500 for every dollar invested.

When investors raised doubts, they were directed to Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”

The appeals court said it recognized that a fraud grounded in religious themes may pose an especially effective threat, but it also concluded that membership in religious groups cannot alone make victims vulnerable in the eyes of the law.

“We have no reason to believe that evangelical Christians as a class are unusually susceptible to fraud,” the court said.

Without the trial judge finding anyone was especially gullible because of religious beliefs, “we cannot conclude that evangelical Christian victims were susceptible to fraudulent schemes involving religious imagery in a manner analogous to how desperate cancer patients might be susceptible to con artists selling placebos,” the court wrote.

The appeals court said sentencing enhancements, designed to protect vulnerable people, should be reserved to increase the punishments of criminals victimizing those in need of greater societal protection, such as the disabled.

The court also noted that not all victims of the scheme shared the same faith and that some were experienced investors. One man who testified at trial was Jewish and said he made his living producing a newsletter geared to investors and traders.

The jury rejected Dupre’s claim that the Lord had spoken to her and encouraged her to recruit investors.

Dupre, of Manhattan, and Stambaugh, of Montrose, Colo., quoted from scripture and urged investors in e-mail messages to pray for the funds to be released.

At sentencing, Dupre said she still had faith in her scheme: “I thank the Lord for the miracle that is to come. I know the work the Lord has given me is unusual.”

A prosecutor at trial said Dupre engaged in the wire fraud since 1994 and since 1999 had been living in a $5,000-a-month room at a posh midtown Manhattan hotel and using the investors “like a personal ATM.”

Dupre’s lawyer, Robert Baum, told the jury that his client, who worked in real estate for 30 years, had been diagnosed with a “bipolar disorder that has delusional aspects to it.”

Telephone messages left for comment from prosecutors and Baum were not immediately returned Wednesday.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
AP, via, USA
Sep. 6, 2006
Larry Neumeister

Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday September 7, 2006.
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