In the wake of one of the largest financial frauds in American history, five former leaders of the Greater Ministries International Church (GMIC) have been sentenced to long prison terms.

The scheme took in at least $500 million from 18,000 Christian investors who believed God would double their money.

In a Tampa federal court in early August, Gerald Payne, the leader of the scam, was sentenced to 27 years for his conviction in March on 19 counts of fraud, conspiracy, money-laundering, and related charges. His wife, Betty Payne, received 12 years and 7 months.

Judge James Whittemore said he had planned to give Betty Payne only 11 years and three months. But then she read a defiant statement, denouncing the trial as a violation of the Paynes' constitutional rights and insisting that their actions were guided by the Holy Spirit and broke no laws. Gerald Payne had read the same statement a few moments before.

Whittemore responded that she had aborted his plan for leniency: "What you've just done is throw that right back in my face." Then he slapped the extra time onto her sentence.

Gerald Payne, who is 65, has suffered several strokes in recent years, the latest while he was in jail awaiting sentencing. Betty Payne is 61.

Three other Greater Ministries defendants also were sentenced. Patrick Henry Talbert, 53, who taught church-sponsored antigovernment legal seminars and claimed to be a "sovereign citizen" not subject to U.S. law, got nearly 20 years tacked onto the 10-year term he is serving on unrelated state charges. And Eudon "Don" Hall, 60, a flamboyant evangelist for GMIC's "Faith Promises" program, was ordered imprisoned for nearly 20 years.

David Whitfield, 48, who was the financial and computer manager for GMIC, was the youngest ...

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