Investment fraud plagues many religious groups, trusting individuals

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Trust. It is a simple word, but once trust is broken it is hard to ever retrieve again. Breaking trust in a confidant can lead to inevitable disaster, especially when money is involved.

A religious perceptive

In 2008, Christian Life Center was looking to hire a new worship leader. They found what they were looking for in Kyle McCarty, an experienced musical pastor with over eight years of seminar experience.

Christian Life Center thought they were set on a bright future with the new worship leader, but four months later McCarty left abruptly. It was a week later Pastor Chris Crowder uncovered McCarty’s dirty past and the theft that had taken place at Christian Life Center.

“In our case, it wasn’t so much the dollars, but it was just the fact that he was such a huge fraud and he had been in so many big churches,” said Reverend Doctor Myke Crowder, Senior Pastor at Christian Life Center. “The dollar issue wasn’t as big as the integrity issue.”

Reverend Crowder’s son, Chris Crowder, had discovered a history of theft and fraud in McCarty’s past. He then found out McCarty had been taking equipment from the church and selling merchandise on eBay. In addition to this, McCarty claimed to purchase equipment for the church with his own money and was reimbursed for fake purchases.

Despite the background checks performed by the church, nothing about McCarty’s fraudulent past showed up.McCarty had even arranged for references that would support him and recommend him for church positions.

“I would have never had to go through what I went through if somebody down the line would have stopped the buck,” said Reverend Doctor Crowder. “They opened the door to another sheep pen and let him feast there. There were people that knew that Kyle was a fraud, but those people didn’t call us. The pastors are the ones that miserably failed us.”

On August 31, 2009, McCarty pled guilty to theft Class A misdemeanor.

“This is one of those rare cases,” said Reverend Doctor Crowder. “We actually like to believe that God let us hire this guy because I had the guts to stand up to him. If you end up with someone who is a fraud, hold them accountable. Christians are to forgive — that is a cop out for cowards. Forgiveness and accountability are two separate responsibilities.”

Research and Regrets

In St. Petersburg, Fla., Carolyn Fankhanel started gaining an interest in investing and finances. She learned about an investment teaching group in Utah.  Here she met Fasi Filiaga, one of four corporate leaders in the organization and expert at option trading.

“He was a phenomenal trader and quite an amiable guy,” said Fankhanel. “Over a long period of time, I got more and more confident in him.”

After working with Filiaga for some time, Filiaga invited Fankhanel to join in a trading fund he claimed to have little or no risk.

“He gave me every reason through stock brokerage accounts and weekly programs where you could follow along to make sure what he said was true,” said Fankhanel.

After a five to six year period of time working on all of this with Filiaga, Fankhanel discovered it was a scam. Fankhanel searched for a way to receive restitution for her $125,000 in lost funds.

“There was nowhere to go for relief or for justice,” said Fankhanel. “It wasn’t a big enough deal for the government to make it worth their time. We were only a few million dollars and they were looking for the multi-million dollar cases.”

Fankhanel wasn’t about to go down without a fight. Fankhanel contacted other Filiaga victims and asked them to join her in the case.  In all, ten decided to help in the effort to find justice for their losses.

“Support your situation instead of running from it,” said Fankhanel. “You have to stand up for yourself in a legal and ethical way. That’s one of life’s toughest lessons I think.”

Fankhanel started a blog, ponzied.com, in order to get word out about the Filiaga case, which ended in a jail sentence for Filiaga, and about fraud.

Eric Nelson, another victim of Filiaga from Lindon, said people need to be held accountable.

“We need to focus putting people in jail and recovering funds,” Nelson said. “As a state, as a country, we aren’t very good at that right now.”

To learn more about fraud in Utah or learn about upcoming fraud conventions visit fraudcollege.info.

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