Three men accused of passing themselves off as pastors to get churchgoers and other investors to put money into what prosecutors say was a $28 million Ponzi scheme have been indicted by a federal jury in Maryland. 

According to the indictment unsealed on Friday, Denni Jali, a South African citizen who used to live in Maryland, together with Maryland residents Arley Ray Johnson and John Erasmus Frimpong, persuaded people to invest in a cryptocurrency and foreign-exchange trading fund they ran. 

Instead of investing it, the three men allegedly used the money to fund their extravagant lifestyles, the indictment notes. 

  • “They used the victims’ hard-earned money for luxury cars, private jets and family vacations while the victims ended up with false promises,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Jennifer Boone, in the press release posted on the DOJ’s website. 
  • While those looking to defraud people have often used complex financial products as cover, behavior like what is alleged to have occurred here highlights how a key part of democratizing any financial market is ensuring consumers have better information about what they’re buying.
  • According to the indictment, the three men marketed their firm, 1st Million, as a wealth management and financial literacy firm and attracted investors by hosting events at expensive venues and attending church-sponsored events.
  • 1st Million allegedly offered contracts guaranteeing investors would have monthly rates of return ranging from 6% to 35% of their initial investments “regardless of market volatility,” according to the indictment.
  • Jali left the United States in May 2019 but was later arrested in South Africa, according to the DOJ’s press release. According to court documents, Frimpong was arrested in Maryland and, as reported by the Associated Press, Johnson is expected to surrender to authorities today. 
  • The Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission  also filed civil actions against the accused pseudo-pastors on Friday. 

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