Advertising in magazines such as Christianity Today and World, Armand DeAngelis and his wife, Marcela, raised $5 million by touting "rare" gold coins. The U.S. Department of Justice says there was nothing rare about them.

In April, the couple was indicted in Miami and charged with mail fraud and money laundering. The feds say the couple owned three companies, one of which was used to pump up the apparent value of the gold coins. One customer bought a set of four gold coins for $3,560, when the coins were worth $37.50, according to The Miami Herald.

"Unbeknownst to investors, the defendants had purchased low-grade gold coins and had them graded at a higher grade by Twenty-First Century Grading Service, Inc., a company owned and operated by Armand A. DeAngelis," according to the Southern District of Florida office of the Justice Department. DeAngelis operated his reputed gold coin scam for years.

Pennsylvania resident Ken Viall was having money problems when he decided to purchase the coins. He wanted to supplement his pension before retiring. Now $16,000 poorer, Viall, 62, has been campaigning for nine years to shut down the fraud.

"Armand read me; he played me," Viall said. "It took me years to figure out what happened. [DeAngelis] is a very clever, golden-tongue salesman."

Since then, Viall has been collecting information from others who lost money in the scheme. Some lost up to $300,000, Viall said. He turned over his information to investigators at the Justice Department and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. It took years before an investigation was finally launched, however.

Barry Minkow, pastor of Community Bible Church in San Diego and fraud investigator for the Fraud Discovery Institute, has seen it before. Minkow spent seven years in prison for fraud and now consults for the FBI in fraud investigations.

"This is your typical 'imputation' fraud," Minkow said. "There is an implied authenticity imputed to those who advertise in Christian publications to other Christians.

"Christians, when dealing with other believers, may not ask all the tough questions because their guards are down."

Scams using religion as bait have taken about $1.8 billion over a recent three-year period, according to the North American Securities Administrators Association. Minkow indicated the problem is much worse. He said he has helped uncover more than $1 billion in fraud perpetrated on Christians in the last seven months alone.

Armand DeAngelis, who with his wife lived in a $3.5 million home, faces a hearing for violating the terms of his probation after a 1991 securities law conviction in New Jersey. If convicted in the latest case, DeAngelis could be sentenced to 695 years in prison and millions of dollars in fines.

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While the statute of limitations has expired on Viall's case, the Baptist layman hopes to receive some of his $16,000 back. Regardless, Viall is glad to have helped uncover the fraud. "It makes me feel really good to think that I played a part in bringing this man to justice."

Related Elsewhere:

Weblog also reported on the scam.

Ken Viall runs a web site about the coin fraud.

The U.S. Department of Justice has a press release about the indictment.

The Miami Herald, the Associated Press and the South Florida Business Journal covered the story.

Other fraud cases covered by Christianity Today include:

The 419 Fraud | New twist on an old scam tempts Christians to accept millions from a Muslim convert. (Nov. 20, 2002)
Swindle Taints Nigerian Church | Church growth and credibility in danger because of scam. (Nov. 20, 2002)
Greater Ministries Leaders Get Lengthy Prison Terms | After taking in 18,000 Christians with "gifting" program, five leaders convicted. (Oct. 2, 2001)
Indictments Handed Down | Five former Baptist Foundation of Arizona officials plead not guilty to theft, fraud, and racketeering. (May 17, 2001)
Jury Convicts Greater Ministries of Fraud | Five leaders face jail time for one of the largest Ponzi operations ever. (March 28, 2001)
Health Ministry Fraud Alleged | Ohio seeks $16 million in damages against Christian Brotherhood Newsletter. (March 9, 2001)
Elderly Investors Target Accountant | But Baptist Foundation of Arizona victims will have to wait in line. (May 17, 2001)
Defrauding the Faithful | If convicted, Greater Ministries defendants face massive fines, prison terms. (Feb. 8, 2001)
Baptist Foundation Faces Investment Fraud Charges | Freeze on redemptions leaves pensioners in a pinch. (Oct. 25, 1999)
Federal Authorities Collar Greater Ministry Leaders | Accusations include fraud, money laundering. (April 26, 1999)
$100 Million Missing in Greater Ministries Scandal | The financial scandal engulfing Greater Ministries International Church is expected to reach a climax soon in a Tampa federal court. (Oct. 4, 1999)
12 Million Fraud Scheme Parallels Greater Ministries | Jonathan Strawder's arrest in Orlando on December 15 on charges of grand theft and securities fraud involved more than just another religious scam with Christian contributors. Authorities hope he can provide crucial information about the workings of an even larger operation, Greater Ministries International Church (GMIC), which has headquarters in Tampa (Feb. 8, 1999)
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Unsuspecting Christians Bilked of Millions | This month, Philip Harmon, 61, entered a federal prison to begin serving an eight-year sentence for conspiracy and tax fraud. His businesses have crumbled, and in their place Harmon faces, besides a penitentiary, a court order to repay $16 million dollars to his investors, a debt he is unlikely to repay. (July 13, 1998)
New Era's Bennett to Prison | How could a little-known Christian business executive defraud charities of $354 million while claiming to do God's work? (Oct. 27, 1997)

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