When Jan and Henny Pauw visited Le Rucher on a summer missions trip, they never dreamed it would wind up costing them their retirement nest egg. The Dutch couple became ensnared in a faith-based Ponzi scheme that operated for a dozen years before it unraveled.
Nestled on two acres at the base of France's Jura Mountains and the nearby Swiss Alps, the Le Rucher retreat center opened in 1994 to help stressed-out missionaries recuperate. But Le Rucher became the setting for the promotion of the fraudulent Nordic Capital Investments (NCI), which has created resentment toward Le Rucher co-founder Erik Spruyt. Last October, Swedish businessman Kristian Westergard, the founder of NCI and a close associate of Spruyt's, was convicted of gross fraud in Sweden and sentenced to prison.
In 1998, the Pauws went to Le Rucher—then associated with Youth With a Mission (YWAM)—with their evangelical church in Ermelo, the Netherlands. An industrial chemist by trade, Jan had never been on a Christian mission. On the couple's first trip, Spruyt suggested they consider becoming long-term volunteers. Jan replied that they couldn't afford it.
When the Pauws returned the following summer, Spruyt repeated the suggestion. Jan demurred. Then, they say, Spruyt introduced them to NCI, a special investment fund that paid interest of 15 percent a year (the rate on a contract they later signed). It had the potential to generate enough income to support the couple. Part of the attraction was the promise that some of the fund's earnings would generate charitable support for select Christian missions. The Pauws invested euros worth $260,000. The following year they moved to Le Rucher as volunteers.
In total, the couple received more than $230,000 before ...