by Brian Mahany
Just when I say nothing shocks me comes this story from DeKalb County Georgia. Bishop Eddie Long, spiritual leader and pastor of a Georgia megachurch, the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, was sued in a state court yesterday and accused of participating in a massive Ponzi scheme. The victims? Church parishioners.
While little surprises me, earlier this month Bishop Long sued 3 men seeking the return of $900,000 allegedly paid to them by the church as settlement for a some sort of sexual abuse scandal. That’s right. The church pays off Long’s accusers then Long seeks the return of the settlement monies after the men say they plan on telling their story as to how they were abused by Long.
If the stories and lawsuits are true, it’s been a bad month for Long. Earlier in the month Long settled another case in which he was accused of defaulting on a multimillion dollar real estate loan.
According to yesterday’s court complaint, all 10 of the plaintiffs were members of Long’s 25,000 member New Birth Church. They say Bishop Long provides “faith based advice about economic prosperity and wealth building.” That advice included offering investment seminars sponsored by the church.
The victims say that both the church and Bishop Long marketed a “Wealth Tour Live” featuring Ephren Taylor, a self proclaimed financial advisor. Taylor allegedly kicked back money to both the church and Long. Long also introduced Taylor as an ordained minister.
While the complaint is a little fuzzy on what or how Long benefitted from the seminars, the victims say that Bishop Long introduced Taylor as the second coming of Moses who was leading his people out of the desert and further told church members, “I am responsible for everyone I bring you and what they say.”
Obviously, I wouldn’t be writing this story if the 10 plaintiffs, and probably hundreds more, made money. According to press reports, they lost everything. Taylor is accused of running a Ponzi scheme.
Is Bishop Long and the church liable for their losses? Perhaps. Taking undisclosed kickbacks, encouraging church members to invest and providing false information may be enough.
Bishop Long denies wrongdoing. Of course, this is the same man who denied wrongdoing in the sexual abuse scandal and now doesn’t want the victims to tell their story. What happens with this lawsuit is unknown. What is clear, however, is that Bishop Long’s problems are probably long from over.
Press reports today indicate cops have seized computers and records. 3 major legal challenges since October 1st and the month is far from over. There is still time for the SEC or FBI to weigh in.
According to the New Birth Church website, Bishop Long is a “gifted charismatic orator.” He may need though skills at a bail hearing before the month is over.
Whatever Long’s role, the messages in this case are clear. First, there is no substitute for proper due diligence. A simple Internet search would have revealed that Taylor’s own auditors were warning that his investment company was virtually insolvent.
Second, just because someone is a member of your church (in this case the spiritual leader) or group, doesn’t mean they know what they are doing. Many of the victims we represent fell for the scam because of some type of affiliation or affinity to the fraudster. Crooks come in all sizes and colors. Some even wear vestments.
If you are a victim of fraud, don’t wait. The earlier you act, the better the chance of recovery.
Mahany & Ertl, LLC – America’s Fraud Lawyers. Offices in Wisconsin, Michigan & Maine. Legal services available in most locations.