"As the years passed by, the desire became a dream, the dream became a need, the need became an obsession, the obsession became a fantasy, and the fantasy became a delusion," admitted John G. Bennett, Jr., just prior to his September sentencing in a Philadelphia courtroom.
As founder of the Foundation for New Era Philanthropy, Bennett persuasively convinced about 500 charities to invest $354 million in hopes of having anonymous benefactors match their gifts dollar for dollar. But New Era from its earliest days was in reality a pyramid scheme, defrauding individual donors and charities alike.
Those people and charities are of starkly differing opinions about New Era and Bennett, who told friends his life's purpose was "changing the world for the glory of God."
Victim-impact letters, on file with the court, provide a glimpse at how donors and nonprofit leaders view Bennett. Bruce Johnson of Leighton Ford Ministries wrote that donor loss of trust and increased skepticism has been "tremendous." Yet William E. Simon, the former Secretary of the U.S. Treasury and a New Era donor, said, "He believed he could match the funds he raised. I hope … he will be given the opportunity to start anew."
C. Raymond van Pletsen, Bennett's pastor, wrote to the court, "I am convinced he is not a con man. The elders of our church have heard Jack's confession, and as far as any human being can measure such things, believe that Jack is truly repentant."
Judge Edmund V. Ludwig, under federal guidelines, could have sentenced Bennett to 24 years in prison. But the judge said he took into account Bennett's charitable activity before 1989 as well as evidence that Bennett had been experiencing significant personality disorders.
Bennett's wife, Joyce, in a statement to the court, called her husband a "good Samaritan." She said, "His mother often spoke of her motto: 'If there is any good I can do for someone, let me do it now, for I may not pass this way again.' "
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