Five leaders of Greater Ministries International Church were convicted in federal court on a total of 72 counts of conspiracy, wire and mail fraud, and money laundering, in one of the largest church fraud schemes in American history.

The five—Gerald Payne, 63, Greater Ministries' pastor; Betty Payne, 60, his wife and the church secretary; missions director Haywood "Don" Hall, 58; financial administrator David Whitfield, 47; and legal director Patrick Talbert, 51—were immediately taken into custody after the March 12 verdict was delivered, pending sentencing. They face 25 to 190 years in prison. Their trial lasted six weeks, and the jury deliberated for three days.

Two other defendants, Andrew Krishak, 48, and James Chambers, 67, had earlier pleaded guilty to one conspiracy count each and testified for the prosecution. The charges stemmed from Greater Ministries' "gifting" program, which operated nationwide through most of the 1990s under various names, from "Double Your Money" to "the Faith Promises Program." Citing Luke 6:38, "Give and it will be given unto you," Greater Ministries leaders told givers they would double their money in approximately 17 months.

The profits to finance this doubling, Greater Ministries claimed, would come from God's blessing, and the church's holdings of fabulously rich diamond, gold, and platinum mines in the United States and Africa. But the government charged that there were never any profits, only a series of feckless and failed mining ventures in Liberia. Investors (called "gifters" by Greater Ministries) who received money were paid with the funds of later investors—the classic definition of a Ponzi scheme.

In addition, insiders of Greater Ministries were paid monthly commissions on the investments ...

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