Three fake pastors have been charged by the Department of Justice (DOJ) for running a financial literacy Ponzi scheme that duped at least 1,200 victims out of $28 million. The scam, named "1st Millions," was operated under the guise of promoting financial education and investment opportunities within Christian communities.
The three men - identified as Tyrone Smith, Dennis Jali, and Timothy Robbins - used their religious affiliations to gain people's trust and lure them into investing in their fraudulent scheme. They frequented churches, hotel galas, and upscale events to recruit unsuspecting victims under the "auspices of God."
According to the DOJ indictment, Smith, Jali, and Robbins promised investors high returns on investments in real estate projects and other ventures. However, instead of using the funds for legitimate purposes or paying back earlier investors as promised in a Ponzi scheme model they pocketed most of it themselves.
Moreover,the trio tried to scrub an online article about a previous Ponzi scheme they were involved with just before being caught by authorities.
"The defendants allegedly made false promises about guaranteed returns on investments while using religion-based marketing tactics to prey on vulnerable individuals," said Acting U.S. Attorney Jacquelyn Kasulis.
The case has sent shockwaves through Christian communities across America who trusted these self-proclaimed pastors with their hard-earned money."It is disheartening that people use religion as a tool for deceitful activities," said one victim who lost her life savings after investing in 1st Millions.
The three accused face charges including securities fraud conspiracy; wire fraud conspiracy; bank fraud conspiracy; money laundering conspiracy; identity theft; obstruction of justice; destruction or falsification of records in federal investigations. If found guilty they could spend decades behind bars.