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Recent DOJ and SEC Charges Against Pastors Demonstrate Risks of Affinity Fraud

May 5, 2017 Blog

The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently issued separate press releases warning investors nationwide of the risks of affinity fraud schemes – schemes targeting individuals within certain groups or affiliations – being perpetrated by religious leaders. The press releases discuss two separate cases in which pastors have been accused of using their influence and positions of authority to defraud unsuspecting members of their congregations.

St. Louis Pastor Pleads Guilty to $1.08 Million Investment Fraud

Mark Q. Stafford, owner of the Stafford Financial Firm and a minister at New Birth Powerplex Ministries in St. Louis, pled guilty in March to defrauding 31 individuals in an investment scam that netted $1.08 million. According to the DOJ’s press release, while Stafford told investors that their money would be placed into investment accounts, in reality he used their funds for his own personal benefit. Local news outlets report that Stafford used his position within the church to solicit money congregants, some of whom entrusted Stafford with their entire life savings.

Flint, MI Pastor Charged with Exploiting Church Members through Real Estate Investment Scam

In a separate case, the SEC charged Larry Holley, pastor of Abundant Life Ministries in Flint, MI, with perpetrating an investment fraud scam that raised approximately $6.7 million from more than 80 investors nationwide using financial presentations that he and his partner called “Blessed Life Conferences.” According to the SEC’s press release, Holley’s fraudulent scheme involved:

  • Asking congregants to provide details of their financial holdings on information cards;
  • Referring to those who invested as “millionaires in the making”;
  • Guaranteeing high returns through “a profitable real estate company with hundreds of residential and commercial properties”;
  • Advertising on a religious radio station and targeting recently laid-off auto workers;
  • Using faith-based rhetoric in investment solicitations, and saying that he was more trustworthy than a banker as someone who “prayed for your children”; and,
  • Targeting retired churchgoers, “building a bond of trust purportedly based on faith but actually based on false promises.”

Neither Holley, his partner nor their supposed investment firm, Treasure Enterprise, was registered with the SEC.

Investors: Know the Warning Signs of Affinity Fraud

Situations such as these are extremely unfortunate, and these days they are all-too-common. Investors of all ages and affiliations must be careful to protect their hard-earned savings, and this starts with knowing the warning signs of affinity fraud scams. Lack of SEC registration is a major red flag, and you can check investment advisors’ registration status through the SEC’s website. For more information about avoiding affinity fraud scams – and what to do if you suspect that you may be a victim of fraud – we encourage you to read:

Speak with an Investment Fraud Attorney at Zamansky LLC

At Zamansky LLC, we provide legal representation to individuals who have lost money in affinity fraud scams and suffered other fraudulent investment losses nationwide. If you are concerned that you may be a victim of fraud and would like to speak with an attorney, please call (212) 742-1414 or contact us online for a free consultation.