The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has arrested three individuals, who posed as pastors, for scamming over $28 million from at least 1,200 unsuspecting victims in a Ponzi scheme called "1st Millions." The trio attempted to cover their tracks by scrubbing an online article about a previous Ponzi scheme before they were caught, according to court documents.
The fraudulent pastors reportedly frequented churches, hotel galas and upscale events under the pretense of promoting financial literacy and wealth creation under the "auspices of God." They operated out of two companies - First Financial Investments Inc. and FFI Advisors Inc.- that claimed to provide investment opportunities through commodities trading.
However, prosecutors allege that these companies were merely fronts for a classic pyramid scheme where early investors are paid with funds raised from later investors. The defendants falsely promised returns on investments ranging from 6% to 42%, but instead used the money collected for personal expenses such as luxury cars and real estate purchases.
"This case is yet another example of how fraudsters will use any means necessary - including religion - to exploit vulnerable individuals," said Assistant Director Calvin Shivers of FBI's Criminal Investigative Division.
The accused have been identified as Dennis Jali (35), John Frimpong (40) and Arley Johnson Jr. (59). According to reports, all three have had prior run-ins with the law related to financial crimes or securities violations before embarking on this latest fraudulent venture.
In an effort to avoid detection by authorities, Jali allegedly attempted to delete an online article about his involvement in a previous Ponzi scheme just days before his arrest. However, investigators were able to recover deleted data revealing his past criminal history.
If convicted on all charges including conspiracy wire fraud and money laundering- the defendants could face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
As the DOJ continues its investigation, authorities are urging anyone who may have been victimized by this Ponzi scheme or other fraudulent activity to come forward.