Flock Sues Pastor on Investments Gone Awry

     (CN) - In a lawsuit their head pastor called "not Christian," four parishioners at Hope Chapel Christian Church have sued another pastor, accusing him of losing their $115,000 by buying high-risk stock options instead of real estate, as he promised.
     In the complaint in Los Angeles Superior Court, lead plaintiff Robert Mason says he and fellow parishioners sought advice about financial matters from the Rev. Michael Maffe after the church claimed Maffe had "special expertise and certification" in the financial world.
     Part of this "expertise" involved Maffe's losing his family's life savings on high-risk stocks, and the church knew it, the parishioners claim.
     In 2006, Maffe talked seven parishioners into investing a total of $115,000 in a Texas real estate development, according to the complaint. Four of the parishioners - Robert Mason, Marianne Mason, Douglas Bray and Sunny Bray - are plaintiffs in this lawsuit. They say Maffe promised to spend their money only on housing in Texas, not to invest it in the stock market, and to pay 7 percent in quarterly interest.
     They say Maffe spent the next year sending them fictitious status reports, claiming he used their money to buy three four-unit buildings in the development and that construction of curbs and roads had begun. Maffe sent the promised 7 percent returns along with the fabricated progress reports, the plaintiffs say.
     One year later, they claim, Maffe said the deal had fallen through because he refused to pay the developer an additional $30,000.
     The plaintiffs say Maffe repeatedly assured them that "real estate was a long-term plan." They claim Maffe lulled them into letting him transfer their money into a savings account with a 4 to 4.5 percent return.
     Four months later, Maffe finally admitted that he never invested their money in real estate, but had lost it all gambling on high-risk stock options, the complaint states. Maffe then allegedly "asked for the plaintiffs' forgiveness."
     One month later, the plaintiffs say they asked Hope Chapel leadership for help getting their money back. They say the head pastor, a "close personal friend of Maffe ... downplayed" the problem. They claim the head pastor tried to get them to sign an agreement promising not to sue Maffe, claiming that lawsuits are "not Christian."
     The plaintiffs want their money back. They sued Maffe, the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, Hope Chapel Christian Church-Hermosa Beach and Maffe's company, Trumpet Properties.
     The plaintiffs are represented by Richard Sherman of Beverly Hills and Sean Macias of Pasadena.