SHREVEPORT, La. (CN) — Federal prosecutors and the SEC on Thursday charged the pastor of one of the largest Protestant churches in the country, and an associate, with defrauding elderly investors of $3.5 million and skimming nearly $2 million from them.
The SEC sued Kirbyjon Caldwell, senior pastor at Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, and Gregory Alan Smith, a self-described financial planner whom the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority barred from the broker-dealer business in 2010, in Shreveport Federal Court.
Federal prosecutors filed a parallel, 13-count criminal indictment against the two men, the U.S. attorney in Shreveport said.
The Washington Post today identified Caldwell as a famous “megachurch pastor and longtime spiritual adviser to President George W. Bush.” The church claims a membership of 14,000 worshipers.
The SEC claims the men targeted vulnerable and elderly investors with false assurances that “defunct, pre-Revolutionary Chinese bonds” were worth millions of dollars.
Actually, the SEC said in a statement announcing the lawsuit, the bonds are collectible memorabilia with no meaningful investment value.
The SEC claims the men skimmed $1.8 from their dupes for personal expenses, including Caldwell’s mortgage payments and “luxury automobiles” for Smith.
“Offshore individuals received most of the remaining funds,” the SEC said.
Caldwell, 64, of Houston, and Smith, 55, of Shreveport, are accused of pulling the scam from April 2013 through August 2014, then sending “lulling messages” to 29 victims, most of them elderly.
Caldwell skimmed $760,000 and Smith $1 million, and LDT LLC, which Caldwell owns with his wife, got another $1 million, $175,000 of which Caldwell took for himself, according to the complaint.
“No investor to date has ever received any return on his or her investment. The great majority of investors have never even received their principal back,” the complaint states.
In a separate complaint in the same court, the SEC accused Shae Yatta Harper of Monmouth Junction, N.J., an attorney, with aiding and abetting Caldwell and Smith.
She agreed to pay a $60,000 civil penalty and be barred from appearing before the SEC as an attorney for five years.