The senior pastor of a Houston megachurch pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges he scammed investors out of millions of dollars.
Kirbyjon H. Caldwell and financial planner Gregory Alan Smith have been federally indicted of wire fraud, money laundering and conspiracy for selling $1M+ of worthless Chinese bonds to vulnerable investors. Some lost their life savings. Both men pleaded guilty to the charges last year.
“These defendants used their positions as religious leaders and investment advisers to defraud Louisiana residents – many of whom are elderly and retired,” U.S. Attorney David Joseph said in a statement. “In doing so, the defendants abused the trust and respect of their victims for the sole purpose of stealing their money. This type of deceit can be devastating for victims, especially when life savings are lost. My office will continue to vigorously prosecute those who use confidence schemes to prey upon the elderly and people of faith.”
Caldwell, pastor of the 16,000-member Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, preyed on victims with dementia and medical ailments, including one who was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
“And some of these victims have been without hundreds of thousands of dollars since 2013. For many of them, it represents their life savings, and the dragging out of this prosecution compounds their loss,” according to the government, which denied Caldwell’s previous request for a third continuance in his case.
According to the government, Caldwell and Smith persuaded multiple victims — all of whom were investment clients of Smith’s in Shreveport – to invest about $3.5 million in their scheme. Smith’s sales pitch to clients and acquaintances offered an opportunity to invest in Chinese historical bonds. The victims were not told of the true nature of the bonds and they were encouraged to cash out any other investments they might have if they could not afford to participate.
One of the victims, a woman, lost her entire life savings of $200,000. She is living in what is described as a “hovel” and has been left so destitute she even has trouble paying her utilities.
After Smith made the fraudulent pitch, the victims were instructed to wire funds to various accounts under Caldwell’s control. The funds were divided between Smith, Caldwell and others, the government said.
In 2013 and 2014, approximately $3.5 million was “invested.” The funds were divided between Caldwell, Smith, and others.
Caldwell used the approximately $900,000 that he received to pay down personal loans, mortgages, and credit cards, and maintain his lifestyle. Smith received $1.08 million and used the money to pay down loans, purchase two luxury sport utility vehicles, place a down payment on a vacation property, and maintain his lifestyle.
When investors began to question the status of their promised returns, Caldwell and Smith offered excuses and assured their victims that they would receive payments.
Under the terms of his plea agreement, Caldwell faces between 5 to 7 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, and up to three years of supervised release. He has also agreed to pay over a million in restitution before sentencing.
Smith will be sentenced May 4 and faces the same prison sentence.