The senior pastor of 16,000-member Windsor Village United Methodist Church, Kirbyjon H. Caldwell, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud for his role in bilking victims in a multi-million-dollar investment scheme, the Department of Justice said in a statement.
Another codefendant, Gregory A. Smith, also pleaded guilty to the same charges in 2019.
According to the Houston Chronicle, Caldwell, who is a well-known pastor and leader of one of the largest protestant churches in the United States, was the spiritual advisor to Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Caldwell, 66, and Smith allegedly used their influence to convince the victims to invest up to $3.5 million in historical Chinese bonds that were issued by the former Republic of China before losing power to the Communist government in 1949, the Department of Justice said. The bonds, however, have no investment value as they aren’t recognized by the Chinese government in power.
“These defendants used their positions as religious leaders and investment advisors to defraud Louisiana residents – many of whom are elderly and retired,” U.S. Attorney David C. Joseph said. “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 and Smith, who initiated the scheme in 2013, pitched and promised considerable and swift returns of investment for the victims. They, however, never really told them the bonds were valueless.
The funds, which were wired to different bank accounts controlled by Caldwell, were subsequently shared between him, Smith and others. Caldwell used his share of the funds, which was $900,000, to maintain his lifestyle, partly settle his personal loans, mortgages and credit cards, the Department of Justice said.
When the investors got worried and raised concerns about delays in receiving their guaranteed returns, Caldwell and Smith gave excuses.
Caldwell, who is set to be sentenced on July 22, has as part of his plea deal, started reimbursing the victims. He has also agreed to settle the remaining balance of $1,951,478.00 before he is sentenced.
He also faces between five to seven years behind bars, a fine of up to $250,000, and up to three years of supervised release, the Department of Justice said.