DOJ: Fake Pastors Scammed Christians Out Of $28M

Via press release from the Justice Department:

A federal grand jury has indicted Dennis Jali, age 35, formerly of Upper Marlboro, Maryland; John Erasmus, age 40, of Upper Marlboro; and Arley Johnson, age 61, of Bowie, Maryland on federal charges of conspiracy, wire fraud, securities fraud, and money laundering. The indictment was returned on July 27, 2020, and was unsealed today.

“The defendants allegedly recruited investors at churches, presenting themselves as pastors concerned about the investors’ financial freedom,” said U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur. “The indictment alleges that instead, the defendants used new investments to further their Ponzi scheme and to fund their lavish lifestyles, including luxury vehicles and private jets.”

“In a time of such financial insecurity, the defendants allegedly preyed on their victims with false hope of financial security,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Jennifer Boone. “They used the victims’ hard earned money for luxury cars, private jets and family vacations while the victims ended up with false promises and empty hopes.”

The indictment alleges that Jali, Erasmus, and Johnson recruited victims to invest in 1st Million by holding promotional events at upscale hotels and event spaces, attending church-sponsored events intended to target investments from churchgoers, and representing themselves as religious men more interested in the philanthropic financial freedom of others than personal financial gain.

The defendants allegedly presented themselves as “pastors,” and told prospective investors that 1st Million’s work was in furtherance of God’s mission as it helped churches and their members achieve personal wealth and financial freedom.

Over the course of the conspiracy, the indictment alleges that the defendants persuaded or attempted to persuade investors to provide them with wire transfers, checks, and cash totaling more than $28 million, from numerous victims, under the fraudulent pretense of investing in the foreign exchange and cryptocurrency markets.

The indictment seeks a money judgment of at least $28,021,868.01, including $2,481,994.57 seized from 10 bank accounts associated with the defendants.

If convicted, the defendants face a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison for a wire fraud conspiracy and for each count of wire fraud; a maximum of five years in federal prison for a securities fraud conspiracy and a maximum of 20 years in federal prison for each count of securities fraud.