Federal agents arrested seven key staff of the Tampa, Florida–based Greater Ministries International Church (GMIC) at their homes on March 12, accusing them of fraud, conspiracy, and money laundering in connection with the organization's purported double-your-money investment plan.

Since the early 1990s, the group's controversial "gifting ministry," based on Luke 6:38, had claimed the ability to double its donors' investments in 17 months from the profits of gold and diamond mines in Liberia and international trading in precious metals (CT, Jan. 11, 1999, p. 16). Tens of millions of dollars were invested by thousands of Christian "gifters" all over the country.

The program has been called a Ponzi scheme by state regulators and made the subject of cease-and- desist orders in three states. But in the past month, legal challenges to Greater Ministries became much more serious.

The first blow came March 1 when a Pennsylvania state judge imposed $6.4 million in fines.

Then came the arrests. Agents from the IRS, Secret Service, Post al Inspection, and other agencies all took part in the probe, which produced a 19-page indictment alleging 17 counts of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, and numerous money laundering and other financial offenses.

Those arrested included Gerald Payne, 62, GMIC's pastor and leader; Payne's wife, Betty, 59, Greater's secretary; Don Hall, 57, missions director; David Whitfield, 46, financial director; Andrew John Krishak, 47, disbursements director; James Chambers, 66, a director; and Patrick Talbert, 50, former legal department head.

All except Talbert were still active in Greater Ministries' operations. Talbert left the church after being indicted in 1997 on state fraud charges. His trial on the state ...

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