Greater Ministries defendants found guilty
"This is one of the largest Ponzi-type schemes ever investigated," an Internal Revenue Service spokesman said yesterday after Gerald and Betty Payne, Don Hall, Patrick Henry Talbert, and David Whitfield were convicted on federal conspiracy and fraud charges. For more than five years, beginning in 1993, Greater Ministries bilked Christians out of $500 million in a "Double Your Blessing," or "Faith Promise" program. Participants expected to double their money in less than 18 months. The Greater Ministries Web site calls yesterday "A day that will go down in history … Although the government did not come close to proving their case the jury brought back a guilty verdict ! The judge was not even decent enough to let the elders get their affairs in order, the took them all right into custody! What a disgrace for America when the First Amendment is stomped on and disregarded like an old rag." But defense attorney Ron Smith one-upped even the Web site. "I know that the jurors was crying when they were polling the jury," he told The Tampa Tribune. "I think that means they were pressured." Either that or they were upset with how many people's lives were ruined by the pyramid scheme.

Speaking of fraud … The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a lawsuit against filtered Internet service provider Families On Line (FOL), CEO Mark Thurman, and COO Robert Fiene for allegedly conducting "an affinity fraud designed to raise money from fundamentalist Christian investors," says a SEC press release. According to the SEC, the company fraudulently raised $3.9 million from about 410 Christian investors through unregistered sales of FOL stock and warrants. Not only that, but the SEC alleges ...

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