Church Ministers Involved in Investment Scam Suffer Losses Financially and Spiritually

( [email protected] ) Jun 04, 2004 09:37 PM EDT

The consequences of an evangelical investment scam involving some well-known T.V. evangelists are hitting churches, pastors, and ministries that invested in fraud businesses. Some had to return money they unwittingly benefited from the scheme and others will suffer huge loses.

Pastor Benny Hinn of Benny Hinn Ministries and Evangelist Reinhard Bonnke were among the first group of profiting investors who stepped up to return $1.4 million in fraud money to a victim’s fund set up by a Dallas-Fort Worth area law practice.

James P. Lewis headed one of the ponzi-type programs that used monies from new church and ministry investors to pay earlier investors who endorsed the investment. The Financial Advisory Consultants, the alleged business Lewis was heading, was shut down by federal prosecutors and Securities and Exchange Commission investigators earlier this year. International Products Investment Corp., an export-import business that never existed and led by Gregory Sester, also collapsed under investigation and faced prosecution. Lewis and Sester are now facing charges for federal fraud and money-laundering.

One Reverend who invested with Sester never received the full amount of his original investment back, let alone make profit from it. From a $2.3 million investment, the Rev. Glen Cole, a district superintendent of Assemblies of God churches in Northern California and Nevada, said they lost $460,000.

Investigators are still unsure how much the fraud businesses bilked from churches and ministries but the amount has been reported to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The most recent blow was suffered by an investor was from Rev. Paul Risser of International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, whose risky investment could cost the church up to $15 million, according to San Francisco attorney Stephen Farrand, who investigated the situation at Foursquare. Risser was guilty of "management negligence that approaches gross negligence,” said Farrand.

But the $15 million wasn’t the only debt Risser had accrued through the transaction with Lewis last December when he handed Lewis a check for $5 million. He had “sinned again against the heart of God”, Risser said on June 1 to 2,500 church members gathered for the annual convention at the Hilton Hotel.

"I have, metaphorically, been to hell and back,'' said Risser, who resigned on March 10. "I am very, very sorry for these transgressions.''

On June 2, the delegates at the convention raised their hands and publically forgave Risser, singing choruses of “Amazing Grace.” They also urged him to remain involved in the church.

Although grace was abundant mid-way through the week-long annual convention, the 2,600 church members are going to learn from experience. On June 4, the last day of the convention, they will elect a new president and also new measures tightening control at the church headquarters.