Three fake pastors have been arrested for scamming at least 1,200 victims out of $28 million in a financial literacy Ponzi scheme called '1st Millions.' The Department of Justice (DOJ) revealed that the men targeted individuals by frequenting churches, hotel galas, and upscale events under the "auspices of God."
The accused are identified as Richard Olive, Harold Blue, and Mark O. Witten. They portrayed themselves as successful businessmen with religious affiliations to gain trust from potential investors. According to court documents filed by DOJ attorneys on Tuesday, each pastor was responsible for recruiting investors through their respective church networks.
The scheme promised high returns on investments made towards financial education programs but instead relied heavily on new members' funds to pay off earlier investors - a classic sign of a Ponzi scheme. The DOJ alleges that the three men used investor money to fund lavish lifestyles while providing false information about investment returns.
Furthermore, it is alleged that they tried scrubbing an online article about a previous Ponzi scheme right before they were caught. This raises suspicions that there may be more victims who fell prey to these men's schemes in the past.
In his statement regarding this case, Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney Jr said: "As we've seen time and again with these types of schemes when something seems too good to be true-it's usually because it is."
The three accused pastors face charges including wire fraud conspiracy and could face up to 20 years imprisonment if convicted.
This case serves as another reminder always to conduct due diligence before investing your money into any opportunity presented- especially those under religious guises.