[Hpn] HOMELESS-SCAM: Greater Ministries bilked millions, say prosecutors in Tampa FL USA prosecutors in Tampa FL USA

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Sat, 27 Jan 2001 13:15:35 -0800 (PST)

http://newsfinder.arinet.com/fpweb/fp.dll/$stargeneral/htm/x_dv.htm/_ibyx/cg0302 6/_itox/starnet/_svc/news/_Id/698969526/_k/k5FAQaHrl8V14BKp FWD Associated Press - AP Wire Service - Jan 22, 2001 TAMPA CHURCH USED RELIFION TO BILK MILLIONS, PROSECUTORS ALLEGE TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ Greater Ministries International promised heavenly rewards to those who gave the church money, but it was nothing more than a scheme to make church founders rich, prosecutors told jurors Monday. Defense attorneys countered that donations _ more than $100 million from 18,000 people worldwide _ were given freely by the faithful wanting to express their religious beliefs. The money went to helping the downtrodden, attorneys said. Five church elders, including church founder Gerald Payne, face federal fraud charges in connections with the church's Bible-based fund-raising appeals. Donors were promised a 200 percent return on their money, but prosecutors charge that church elders bilked investors and were planing to use the money to create their own armed Caribbean island nation. ``Gerald Payne and the elders appealed to people's religious beliefs and they appealed to their greed,'' said Assistant U.S. attorney Jay Hoffer. ``This plan, program or scheme was about misrepresentation, greed and fraud.'' Payne; his wife, Betty Payne; pastor Haywood ``Don'' Hall; David Whitfield and Patrick Henry Talbert are being tried on a series of fraud and money laundering charges. Prosecutors say the scheme, which began in 1993 and ended in 1998, promised that parishioners of the Tampa-based church could double cash investments of $250 or more in 17 months. Investigators estimated as many as 18,000 people invested as much as $100 million, a sum the church said came from shrewd deals in gold and platinum mines and overseas banks paying generous interest. When the FBI raided church headquarters in 1999, authorities said they found plans for building an arsenal of grenade launchers, armor-piercing bullets and plastic explosives. The elders also were considering buying a Caribbean island to set up an enclave of church faithful. The church has been sued by attorneys general and securities commissions in several states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio and Colorado. Hoffer told jurors that Greater Ministries elders traveled nationwide to promote their program, skimming 5 percent from every donation as ``gas money.'' Dubbed by church elders at times as ``Christian's Social Security'' or ``God's transfer of wealth from heathens to the righteous,'' the program collapsed in September 1998. Betty Payne's attorney, Anne Borghetti, told jurors that the Paynes were only doing God's work. Attorneys for Gerald Payne and Whitfield reserved their opening statements until after the prosecution rests. ``Gerald Payne had a dream in which God told them to start the program and do God's work,'' Borghetti said. ''... In order to do God's work, they needed funds.'' Borghetti said that the church counseled people, provided food and shelter for the homeless, ran thrift stores, supported missionary work and even had programs to help ex-convicts obey the court's rules of their probation. People who came to the Greater Ministries meetings were moved, and voluntarily donated money, said John Kingston, Talbert's attorney. ``The Supreme Court has said over and over and over and over that how you give to a church is your free expression,'' Kingston said. ``Your government is trying to regulate what happens in church. Patrick Talbert thought he was doing God's work. He wouldn't have defrauded a flea.'' People were told not to invest if they were simply looking to earn more money, said Sharon Samek, who represents Hall. She described Hall as a deeply religious man who was holding revivals at the age of 18. ``Don Hall was guided by his faith,'' Samek said. ``He told listeners not to believe in him, but to believe in God.'' AP-ES-01-22-01 1759EST Received Id AP101022244FAF7C on Jan 22 2001 17:06 END FORWARD **In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this type of information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.** For CONSTANTLY UPDATING HOMELESS NEWS, BOOKMARK HPN Current Archives: Visit HPN for CONSTANTLY UPDATING NEWS on Homeless People: *************************************************************** Over 10,000 articles by or via homeless & ex-homeless people Been Homeless? Then JOIN! EMAIL Tom Boland <wgcp@earthlink.net> Nothing About Us Without Us - Democratize Public Policy ***************************************************************