Securities director: Money often stolen ‘in name of God’

Published 1:39 am Friday, March 1, 2019

Affinity fraud is the best way to steal money in Alabama, Alabama Securities Commission Director Joseph Borg told participants in a fraud summit held Thursday at First Baptist Church.

“We see more scams going through churches than any other way,” he said.

At First Baptist Church in Birmingham, he said, $3 million was stolen by a parishioner who offered to do free tax returns, then convinced members to invest with him.

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“He even got the church to invest some money,” he said.

In Prattville, parishioners were convinced to put up the church’s collateral toward an investment.

“They lost $4.5 million,” Borg said. “The church was foreclosed. There are a dozen more like that.

“This is not to scare you, and not to say don’t trust anybody,” he said. “It’s to tell you to do your homework.”

Borg said if someone asks for an investment, the investor should determine if the person is licensed

“If somebody wants your money and they’re promising you a return, interest or dividend, they’ve got to have a license,” he said. “Once you send money, it’s hard to get it back.”

In one case pursued by the Alabama Securities Commission, investigators determined a scam was being run from a Tampa, Fla., church. The case was featured in a segment called “American Greed.”

“They were promising to double your money in 17 months, all in the name of God,” Borg said. “More money is stolen in the name of God than any other way.”

The church was in an old bank building, and had armed guards. When law enforcement officers finally got in, they also found arms, ammunition, and the group’s plan for escape.

After seven weeks of trial, it was determined that $568 million had been run through the church. The leader was sentenced to 27 years in federal prison, and his assistants were sentenced to 11 to 20 years in prison.

“This case was much larger than investigators anticipated,” he said.

Borg advised summit participants to seek help from a trusted advisor, banking friend, attorney or family member before investing.

The summit was funded by a grant from the Investor Protection Trust from the Alabama Securities Commission. Other speakers included Rep. Mike Jones, Sent. Jimmy Holley, Sheriff Blake Turman, Andalusia Police Chief Paul Hudson, FBI  Special Agent Eric Lawson, and Alabama Dept. of Senior Services SMP Director Lani Richardson.