Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Carmel on the Case: Loss of Faith
Another once well-respected businessman is accused of running another multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme. A federal lawsuit claims he was targeting people of faith. Investigative Reporter Carmel Cafiero is on the case.
WSVN -- Ephren Taylor Jr.: "I started my first company at the age of 12."
From infomercials you can find on YouTube to church pulpits, Ephren Taylor Jr. told a rags-to-riches story.
But some of his investors say he got rich, and they got taken.
Darrilyn Bryant-Hudson, Investor: "I am ready to fight, I am ready to fight. I'm devastated, I don't have anything, so I have nothing to lose."
Darrilyn Bryant-Hudson says in 2008, Taylor traveled to her South Florida church to talk about retirement investing.
The flyer promised he would provide "biblically-sound financial advice."
Darrilyn Bryant-Hudson: "When you come to church, me especially, you are trustworthy. You don't expect anybody from the outside to come into the congregation to tell lies and to deceive you."
She is not the only one who believed in Taylor.
His speeches and seminars are all over YouTube.
CNBC: "Tonight, one of the best combinations on Earth, young and rich, and we're talking very young and very rich, our next whiz kid is Ephren Taylor."
ABC's 20/20: "How much are you worth today?"
Ephren Taylor Jr.: "Wow, that is a very interesting question."
Darrilyn says, her faith in Ephren Taylor Jr. cost her dearly. She says she invested her retirement savings of $250,000 and lost it all.
Darrilyn Bryant-Hudson: "My house is in foreclosure. Devastating, devastating."
Cathy Lerman, Attorney: "All of the victims let their guard down."
Attorney Cathy Lerman has filed this federal class action lawsuit against Ephren Taylor Jr., among others.
The suit alleges he ran a "well-executed, carefully-crafted...Ponzi scheme."
Cathy Lerman, Attorney: "I have not been able to find any legitimate investments."
The suit claims Taylor targeted "working-class, churchgoing, socially-conscious" people who were sold investments in "nonexistent or failing ventures."
Lerman says she believes there may be more than 1,000 victims.
Cathy Lerman, Attorney: "We believe that Mr. Taylor and his cohorts took in excess of $10 million, and potentially in excess of $20 million from victims around the country."
Lerman says Ephren Taylor Jr.'s knack for weaving religion into his investment pitches has left victims doubly devastated.
Ephren Taylor Jr., at a church: "If somebody tells you, 'Oh, you're broke. You can't make no money.' Cross it off."
Cathy Lerman, Attorney: "These people not only lost their investment, some of them lost their faith."
Darrilyn Bryant-Hudson: "He has really, almost destroyed my spirituality."
We couldn't reach Taylor for comment, but he recently told the Associated Press, "Don't assume that I am just another greedy businessman. I am taking action to make things right."
Carmel Cafiero, Investigative Reporter: "Do you know where Taylor is today as we sit here?"
Cathy Lerman, Attorney: "I do not know where he is today, and if anyone out there knows where he is, I would beg them to let me know."
And she is not the only person who would like to know where Taylor is tonight.
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