The Securities and Exchange Commission is seeking a federal court injunction to stop what it describes as a scam aimed at African American church members.

Federal regulators filed the civil suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia on September 5. They charge that Financial Warfare Club (FWC), an investment firm, has taken more than $1.3 million from at least 1,000 individuals in 18 states.

The alleged victims thought their participation would help keep investment dollars within the African American Christian community. The suit seeks to force the defendants, Marcus Dukes, 33, and Teresa Hodge, 39, to return the money with interest and to pay civil penalties the court will assess at a later time.

Marilyn Barry of Brooklyn's Tabernacle of Praise told investigators that Dukes and Hodge described the "financial power of the American black church membership and the potential for that membership to create wealth for itself if properly directed."

Barry said, "Their presentation appealed to us because of what appeared to be their commitment to the church and their knowledge of the Bible."

Dukes and Hodge said the money would buy shares of new corporations, which FWC endorsed. Barry invested $7,750 into FWC, but she says other members invested more than $10,000 apiece.

Grace Moorman, director of Detroit's Amazing Grace of God Ministries, held a meeting in her home for Dukes and Hodge. Moorman invested $2,500 in FWC. "The presentation placed a great deal of emphasis on IPOs [initial public offerings] as the way to acquire wealth," she told federal officials.

But would-be investors, including Barry and Moorman, never received the promised stock certificates.

Last year the Maryland Attorney general's ...

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