It begins with a seemingly sincere offer of help from a trusted, Jesus-loving voice. But the conversation always dead-ends in perdition.
Case in point: The New Covenant Christian Center, a Seattle-area independent church, was the setting where a tragically familiar Ponzi scheme took root in 2003. The scheme's organizer offered to double or triple invested money in a matter of weeks through an overseas trading program. In total, 24 church members handed over $1.6 million until law enforcement intervened in 2011 as the fraud collapsed. Who was that trusted voice behind this Ponzi? Anthony C. Morris, the pastor.
In recent years, Ponzi frauds that prey on the naïve, innocent, and trusting have lost billions. The Madoff Ponzi's price tag alone was $20 billion. In these schemes, the organizer offers a high return rate at low risk, but in reality he pays existing investors with funds collected from new investors.
Prosecutors have uncovered more financial fraud in church networks than they ever imagined. "It took the financial downturn. Money was drying up—the new investors were not coming in, so Ponzi schemes collapsed," IRS Special Agent in Charge for Criminal Investigations Ken Hines told Christianity Today.
Hines, based in Seattle, has helped expose Ponzis for more than 20 years. He has seen first-hand how the church environment has proven to be an ideal context for affinity fraud. "When you go to church, you don't expect to get lied to or deceived or manipulated into losing your life's savings."
The New Covenant Ponzi was no isolated event. The stain of fraud that may have started in the pew has now spread to the pulpit. More pastors, elders, and other spiritual leaders are engaged in or endorse investments that later ...1