Church scammer pleads guilty to fraud charges

by Vanessa Garcia Rodriguez |

Bishop Eddie Long speaks at funeral service for Coretta Scott King at the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia February 7, 2006. Coretta Scott King was the wife of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. U.S. President George Bush is at right behind with his wife Laura. Three former presidents were also in attendance. REUTERS/Ric Feld/Pool

ATLANTA (Christian Examiner) -- Hundreds of church members who lost millions of dollars to Kentucky con-man Ephren Taylor, received a measure of justice, last week after he pled guilty to federal fraud charges in Atlanta.

Taylor, the 32 year-old son of a preacher, and CEO of the former City Capital Corp, had traveled the nation giving wealth management seminars to churches and offering promising investment opportunities. The self-professed "financial expert" had made a name for himself by fabricating a well-received and wildly publicized success story which claimed he had become a millionaire before he turned 20.

Co-defendant Wendy Conner, COO of City Capital Corp, pled guilty to interstate transportation of money taken by fraud.

From April 2009 through October 2010 Taylor used his "Building the Wealth Tour" as a scheme to find and solicit prospective investors. During the tour, he claimed himself to be a "socially conscious" investor, and falsely told church members that 20 percent of venture profits were donated to charity.

The scam largely targeted members of mega-church New Birth Missionary Baptist in Lithonia. It was there that Taylor, convinced a number of the congregants to invest all or most of their retirement savings, swindling at least $2 million dollars.

According to reports from the Atlanta Daily World earlier this year, Taylor asked his clients to transfer their savings to self-directed IRAs at specific trust companies. He would then obtain control over client funds and use the money for various expenses including salaries and payments to earlier investors.

In total, Taylor and Conner cheated 80 investors in Georgia of roughly seven million dollars. Other target churches included Lakewood, a Houston mega-church pastored by Joel Osteen.

This week's plea is particularly significant for Taylor's victims because he initially pled not guilty to charges of money laundering, wire fraud and conspiracy when first arrested this past June.

"Taylor's guilty plea brings a measure of justice for the hundreds of his victims, including those hard-working Georgians who lost their life savings to his criminal scheme," said U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates.

Taylor and Conner will be sentenced on Dec. 18.

New Birth Pastor, Bishop Eddie Long, settled a civil suit with 13 members of the congregation who accused him of encouraging them to invest in Taylor's company.