Rodney B. Swanson had served as a deacon and choir member at Emmanuel Evangelical Free Church in Burbank, California. He had even portrayed Jesus in church plays. So when the real-estate salesman offered long-time friends and fellow church members attractive land investments, he seemed more than trustworthy.

Yet, on September 30, Swanson was sentenced to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay back $840,000 of the $10 million he stole, following convictions on 62 felony counts, including securities fraud, grand theft, and money laundering.

Nearly 80 people, many of them elderly, invested between $10,000 and $775,000 with Swanson, who, among other illegal acts, sold them promissory notes and partial interests in property he did not own.

Investors took Swanson, 47, to civil court in 1991, but the cases were dismissed.

"Unfortunately, this is common operating procedure for these kinds of crimes," says prosecutor Anthony Colannino. "It's a lot easier to defraud people who love and trust you. These people believed they shared the same belief system and the same morals. They didn't."

Swanson's lawyer claimed the money was lost not because of fraud, but a collapsed real-estate market.

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