U.S. Attorney’s Office
April 27, 2012
Western District of Washington
Pastor Sentenced to 40 Months in Prison for Ponzi Scheme
Took $1.8 Million from 24 Victims, Claimed He was Investing for Quick Returns
A Seattle area pastor who defrauded two dozen victims, some of them his own parishioners, out of more than $1.8 million was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to 40 months in prison, three years of supervised release, and $1,843,932 in restitution for wire fraud and money laundering, announced U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan. Anthony C. Morris, 48, the pastor of New Covenant Christian Center, pleaded guilty in January 2012, admitting that his fraud was a Ponzi scheme where early investors were paid off from the money taken from later investors. At sentencing U.S. District Judge Richard A. Jones said the defendant “did not resist temptation and left a trail of victims.”
According to the plea agreement and charges filed in the case, between 2003 and April 2011, Morris convinced various investors to provide him money based on false and fraudulent representations. Morris told various investors that their money would be placed in an overseas trading program or used to invest in property for his church. Morris represented that the investments would provide a high rate of return in a short period of time. Morris promised to return investor money in as little as a few days or a few weeks, with returns of as much as 400 percent. All these representations were false, and, in fact, Morris simply used the funds from later investors to pay off earlier investors. Some of the money went for Morris’ expenses and for the expenses of his church. In one 2007 instance described in the plea agreement, a victim provided Morris with a $30,000 loan for investment purposes on the promise that Morris would repay him, with interest, in 30 days. Despite repeated promises, the money was never repaid.
In asking for a four-year prison term, prosecutors noted that Morris betrayed those who trusted him. “…[I]n dealing with the defendant, they were dealing with someone they believed they could trust. The defendant preyed on those least likely to suspect him, demand collateral, and seek other assurances present in arms-length business transactions. Moreover, in several cases the defendant falsely represented that the funds solicited were intended to benefit church-related purposes,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo.
The case was investigated by the FBI and Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI). The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Carl Blackstone and Matthew Diggs.