Bishop Eddie Long, senior pastor of Atlanta's New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, has been accused in a civil lawsuit in Georgia of encouraging church members to invest in a "Ponzi scheme" that promised 20 percent annual returns on safe investments but instead diverted their money to a failing company.
Plaintiffs — 10 members of the church — say that Long hosted "Wealth Tour Live" seminars, during which an entrepreneur and another firm recruited investors for the scheme, the Wall Street Journal reports.
But this case involves an entirely different pattern of conduct. It's one of the highest-profile accusations to date of so-called religious-affinity fraud, in which potential investors are targeted through a faith-based organization.
The embattled pastor and his church are accused of using their "confidential/fiduciary relationship" to "coerce" 10 church members into investing with Ephren Taylor Jr., the former chief executive of City Capital Corp. in Chicago.
"I've seen more money stolen in the name of God than any other way," Joseph Borg, Alabama securities commissioner and a past president of the North American Securities Administrators Association, told the Wall Street Journal. "Seven out of 10 of our cases involve affinity fraud, and in the South, probably 40 to 50 percent have a religious angle."