$12 Million Fraud Scheme Parallels Greater Ministries

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Jonathan Strawder's arrest in Orlando on December 15 on charges of grand theft and securities fraud involved more than just another religious scam with Christian contributors. Authorities hope he can provide crucial information about the workings of an even larger operation, Greater Ministries International Church (GMIC), which has headquarters in Tampa (CT, Jan. 11, 1999, p. 16).

Strawder, 26, founded Sovereign Ministries International in May 1997 in Longwood, Florida, near Orlando. But Sovereign was no church or mission; its salespeople, called "ambassadors," told prospects that Sovereign was a "Christian secured-assets" company, specializing in "Bible economics" and open only to believers. Sovereign promised risk-free returns of double, triple, or even more on investments in little more than a year, through programs with names such as "The Talents," "Fishes and Loaves," and "Perpetual Living Waters."

Strawder said the company could make such returns because of overseas trading in little-known but supposedly lucrative "bank debenture trading programs." The profits would "empower the people by building their wealth," in turn "releasing their hearts and minds to concentrate on their spiritual well being and relationship with GOD." To back up the claims, investors received impressive-looking booklets with titles such as "Risk-Free Capital Accumulation" and "Introduction to Bank Debenture Trading Programs," purportedly endorsed by the International Chamber of Commerce, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and other prestigious financial bodies.

Investors were assured that the profits would not only build their personal wealth but also benefit mission and church programs. "Sovereign Ministries is serious about ...

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