Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Carmel on the Case: Loss of Faith Follow-Up
A man who preached at South Florida churches is now accused of running a huge Ponzi scheme. And investigators say his victims were the church members who trusted him. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is on the case.
WSVN -- Ephren Taylor Jr.: "I started my first company at the age of 12."
As 7News first revealed in November, Ephren Taylor Jr. told a rags-to-riches story and he told it everywhere.
There are videos of his infomercials, church and national TV appearances 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.
Host: "How much are you worth today?"
Ephren Taylor Jr.: "Wow, that is a very interesting question."
He never answered that question and so far hasn't answered to investors who say they trusted him.
Darrilyn Bryant-Hudson: "My house is in foreclosure. Devastating, devastating. I'm sorry."
Darrilyn Bryant-Hudson says she lost her retirement savings of $250,000 after investing with Taylor. He preached at her Pembroke Park church promising "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."
And now the Securities and Exchange Commission says that's exactly what happened to Darrilyn and hundreds of others.
Eric Bustillo, SEC: "This was nothing but a fraud from the beginning."
In a scathing lawsuit the SEC charges Taylor "operated a Ponzi scheme to swindle over $11 million, primarily from African-American churchgoers."
Ephren Taylor Jr., at church: "If somebody tell you are you broke, you can't make no money. Cross it off!"
Calling himself a social capitalist, Taylor used faith to convince church members their money would be used to buy businesses in disadvantaged communities.
Eric Bustillo, SEC: "These investors put their money in thinking that they were investing with somebody who truly wanted to do some good, who truly had a track history as he claimed he had and in reality it turned out to be it was all false."
Officials say more than 350 investors were taken by Taylor.
Eric Bustillo, SEC: "Primarily the money was basically diverted for Mr. Taylor's personal gain."
According to the lawsuit Taylor's "current whereabouts are unknown." But Taylor's attorney Christopher Bruno says he's just staying out of the spotlight for security reasons. According to Bruno, "Mr. Taylor fully intends to address his legal obligations and he looks forward to telling his side of the story. Mr. Taylor unequivocally denies that he looted investor proceeds to fund an extravagant lifestyle."
Cathy Lerman: "All of the victims let their guard down."
Coral Springs attorney Cathy Lerman also filed a lawsuit against Taylor and people and businesses associated with him. She says several South Florida churches also lost money to Taylor.
Cathy Lerman: "These people not only lost their investment, some of them lost their faith."
Carmel: "And how was all that money spent? Apparently not for doing good deeds. The SEC says Taylor used the money for himself, to pay the rent on his New York apartment, to pay for his credit card bills and even to pay for studio time for his wife's music career."
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