Several congregants of a Georgia church have filed a civil lawsuit alleging that their pastor convinced them to invest in a Ponzi scheme that defrauded victims out of at least $1 million. Eddie Long, the Bishop of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church ("New Birth Church") in Lithonia, was accused by ten members of the church of negligence and conspiring to mislead the members through the perpetration of a financial scheme. The suit, which also names New Birth Church, seeks the return of investor funds, along with punitive damages, attorney's fees and expenses.
According to the suit, Long hosted "Wealth Tour Live" seminars in which potential investors were promised annual returns of up to twenty percent in exchange for their investment in safe investments. Investor funds were placed with Ephren Taylor Jr., the former CEO of City Capital Corp. in Chicago. Taylor was recently named in a lawsuit in a North Carolina federal court seeking class action status on behalf of thousands of similarly situated victims. In that suit, Taylor is accused of pitching City Capital Corp. to primarily church-going African Americans, promising that their investments would go to help the less-fortunate. The complaint states that Taylor sought to convince investors that their funds would be used to purchase homes, real estate, and businesses in communities with working class families, both creating new jobs in these communities and also promising to guarantee that investors would double their investment in a twelve-month period.
The North Carolina suit against Taylor specifically describes the alleged scam perpetrated against the New Birth Church members. According to the suit, Taylor made presentations at New Birth Church, offering investors the opportunity to participate in the "Clean Sweeps" sweepstakes video game machines, and providing at least one investor with a "Certificate of Guaranty" promising that the sweepstakes machine would generate revenues equal to or greater than the investor's contribution. Interestingly, the complaint does not allege any contribution or participation by Bishop Long; instead, it describes a YouTube video pleading for Taylor to return investor funds, which exceeded $1 million.
The case is the latest in a wave of Ponzi schemes built on the exploitation of faith-based relationships, known as religious affinity fraud. Said Joseph Borg, the Alabama securities commissioner and a past president of the North American Securities Administrators Association, "I've seen more money stolen in the name of God than any other way."
A copy of the lawsuit filed against Taylor is here.