(CN) – Four people working with the Urban Interfaith Network scammed almost 200 black churches out of $800,000 in a “cruel and hypocritical scheme” that persuaded the churches to enter into “expensive and onerous leases for shoddy computer equipment housed in wooden cabinets,” California’s attorney general says.
Attorney General Kamala Harris sued the eight defendants in Los Angeles Superior Court, claiming they tricked 195 African-American churches into entering leases for free computer kiosks that they claimed would be paid by advertisers.
Wayne and Tanya Wilson pitched themselves to California churches as representatives of Television Broadcasting Online Ltd., supposedly “a business/religious entity, national in scope, with strong ties to both the African American community and enlightened corporate sponsors,” the lawsuit states. The Wilsons allegedly told the churches that the kiosks would connect them to “national advertisers, government, businesses and even generate some revenue for themselves.”
When the churches failed to make lease payments totaling nearly $50,000 per church for what turned out to be “low end desktop computers” that “rarely, if ever,” worked, Balboa Capital Corp. and United Leasing Associates of America, Ltd. filed collection suits against them.
The attorney general says the defendants operated their scam in 15 states, and began defrauding California churches in 2006. Thirty-three black churches in Southern California were allegedly affected by the scheme.
Two of the defendants, Willie Perkins and Michael Morris, were convicted of racketeering, conspiracy, and false pretenses in connection with the scam in Michigan. Morris is currently serving 5 to 20 years in prison, and Perkins is serving 4 to 20 years.