Ever heard of IPIC International? How about Greg Setser? If so, check your wallet. Setser, three of his family members, and a German living in Orlando have been arrested, accused by the FBI, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Internal Revenue Service and the Texas State Securities Board of defrauding Christians of more than $160 million dollars in a Ponzi scheme.
And among those reportedly bilked are charismatic biggies Benny Hinn and German evangelist Reinhard Bonnke. In fact, that German living in Orlando, Torsten Henschke, served as executive director of Bonnke's Christ for All Nations ministry, and still sits on the board in addition to being executive international director of Setser's organization.
"The defendants deceived investors, promising to generate investment returns that would benefit Christian ministries through merchandising and manufacturing businesses," says an SEC press release. "But in fact, according to the Commission, the defendants invested little, if any, of the investors' money in that way, and instead used it to make ponzi payments to other investors and support their own extravagant lifestyles by purchasing items such as homes, a [$2.3 million] yacht, and a [$1 million] helicopter."
"It's not just that it involved a lot of money," said SEC investigating attorney Spencer C. Barasch told the Los Angeles Times. "It involved dozens of Christian ministries and their followers throughout the country. In a lot of cases these affinity schemes are limited, but in this case it was truly nationwide."
So far, few names of those bilked (as named in the SEC filing) have been published in media reports, but those that have are associated with Orlando's Church in The Son, Covenant Church in Carrollton, Texas, Marilyn Hickey Ministries, Benny Hinn Ministries, and Christ For All Nations. (The SEC originally said that the ministries themselves had lost money, but now says it's members of the ministries, not the ministries themselves, that had invested in Setser's IPIC International.)
Bonnke's ministry didn't comment to The Orlando Sentinel, saying it is "assessing the situation."
Hinn's COO told The Dallas Morning News, "Pastor Benny Hinn was one of the victims who invested money with Gregory Setser. To an absolute certainty, the ministry never endorsed Gregory Setser, and the ministry did not invest any donor dollars with Gregory Setser."
Barasch told The Press-Enterprise of Riverside California, that there's a silver lining to the story: "This is a case we were able to get into before (the scheme) collapsed, which means there's a good chance we can get something back."
Copyright © 2003 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Suggest links and stories by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
Check out Books & Culture's weblog, Content & Context.
See our past Weblog updates:
and more, back to November 1999