A Louisiana investment adviser was sentenced on Tuesday to six years in prison for his part in a $3.5million fraud in which a Texas megachurch minister who was spiritual adviser to George W. Bush tricked people into buying worthless Chinese government bonds.
Gregory Alan Smith, 58, of Shreveport, also was ordered to pay nearly $3.6million restitution and a $100,000 fine, Acting U.S. Attorney Alexander C. Van Hook said in a news release.
Smith ‘persuaded multiple victims to invest approximately $3.5million with his co-defendant, Kirbyjon H. Caldwell,’ the statement said.
‘This case proves that even those you trust to have your best interest at heart sometimes may not. The victims in this case thought their trusted advisor and friend would never lead them astray but sadly, he was merely a con man who led them down an unwanted path,’ Van Hook said.
Caldwell, like Smith, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and agreed to a sentence of five to seven years.
Prosecutors dropped other counts against each. Caldwell is scheduled for sentencing on December 3.
As senior pastor of the predominantly black 18,000-member Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, Caldwell had been a spiritual adviser to Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and officiated in 2008 at the wedding of Bush’s daughter Jenna.
The church’s website currently describes him as a lay preacher and his wife as associate pastor.
According to the Department of Justice, Caldwell and Smith convinced victims in 2013 and 2014 to invest in bonds issued by the former Republic of China before it lost power to the Chinese Communist Party in 1949.
Caldwell and Smith, the operator and manager of Smith Financial Group LLC, knew the bonds held no value but sold them anyway and then used the money to fund their expensive lifestyles.
The duo are said to have cheated 29 investors out of $3.5million between April 2013 and April 2014. Some of these investors put their whole life savings at stake on the bonds.
‘The bonds were considered by the Securities and Exchange Commission to be mere collectables with no value outside of the memorabilia market,’ the news release said.
Smith got more than $1million, which he used to pay down loans, buy two luxury SUVs, make a down payment on vacation property and maintain his lifestyle, prosecutors said.
When Caldwell pleaded guilty, prosecutors said he used about $900,000 to maintain his lifestyle and pay down personal loans and mortgages.
That earlier news release said Caldwell had made partial restitution to the victims and agreed to pay the remaining $1.95million before sentencing.
The two promised their investors returns of three to 15 times in a matter of weeks, and when the money never materialized, they made up elaborate excuses.
According to the filings, Caldwell ‘used religious references to give investors hope they would soon be repaid’ telling them to ‘remain faithful’.
Smith, who boasts years of experience as a financial planner, allegedly convinced people to invest by saying that the bonds were ‘risk free’ and ‘guaranteed’ and that he himself had invested $250,000.
US District Judge S. Maurice Hicks Jr. said Smith will be on supervised probation for three years after he gets out of prison.
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Ariel Zilber; The Associated Press