Con man told to repay

South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Mar. 19, 2003
By Lisa J. Huriash

Former Jehovah’s Witness leader Raymond L. Knowles was ordered Tuesday to pay more than $4.7 million in restitution to almost 50 victims of a fraud he perpetrated on fellow church members.

In October, a federal jury in Miami found Knowles guilty on 16 criminal counts of mail fraud, four of wire fraud and four of securities fraud in a promissory note scheme in which prosecutors say he used his position as a church elder to rip off the congregants, most of them elderly, widowed and disabled. Last month U.S. District Judge Donald Graham sentenced him to 57 months in prison and three years’ probation.

The government said Knowles, formerly of Opa-locka and Pembroke Pines, fraudulently sold several million dollars worth of promissory notes, falsely representing the notes, which were in fact risky investments dependent upon Knowles’ shaky real estate holdings, as safe and sound investments that would return annual yields of 8.5 to more than 20 percent.

Federal officials said he used funds obtained from later investors to make payments to early investors and diverted investor funds to lease luxury cars for his and his wife’s personal use, and to pay personal, business and other expenses, including trips to South Africa and Disney World.

Knowles’ attorney, Miguel Caridad, could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

Jeanette Howison, of Hialeah, said she and her husband were among Knowles’ victims. They turned to him after the husband received a work-related settlement, and Knowles persuaded them to sign over $70,000 in promissory notes, explaining he would be investing the money in real estate and it would be perfectly safe, the Howisons said. They ended up losing $55,000.

Tuesday she said she is resigned to never seeing her money again, despite the restitution order. But she said there’s still a bright side.

“We wanted him to stop taking money from innocent people, to stop making victims of people who suffered tragedies. We’re happy … he is no longer able to cheat people,” Howison said. “But the real judgment comes from God. And that comes soon.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday March 20, 2003.
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