A California "pastor" has agreed to plead guilty to federal counts of mail fraud and filing a false income tax return after being accused of swindling more than $33 million in a church-based investment scam.
Kent R.E. Whitney, 38, ran a massive Ponzi scheme couched in Christian language out of an organization he set up called the "Church for the Healthy Self," which he operated out of a strip mall in Westminster, CA. The "church" had no sanctuary and apparently existed to offer fraudulent investment opportunities to unsuspecting victims.
According to authorities, Whitney and his associates targeted the Vietnamese community and were successful in ensnaring at least 355 investors, who sunk more than $33 million into the scheme over four-and-a-half years.
According to the Orange County Register:
Whitney directed church representatives to appear on television and at live seminars – appearances that were recorded and frequently uploaded on YouTube – in order to solicit investments. Among the false and misleading claims prosecutors allege were presented to investors were promises of a 12% rate of return, a guaranteed return of principal with no risk due to federal insurance and a claim the organization was audited by an accounting firm.
In reality, prosecutors say, little investor money went into trading accounts, and fake monthly statements purporting to outline nonexistent investment returns were prepared for investors.
Prosecutors also allege that Whitney reported an income of $17,539 in the 2018 tax year, far less than the $452,872 he is believed to have earned that year. Of that, prosecutors believe $435,333 came from the alleged fraud scheme.
Court filings show that siphoned funds were used by the scammer to buy Rolex watches, a Bentley vehicle, Gucci apparel, guns, and several Newport Beach properties. The filings also show that Whitney founded the "church" in 2014, three months after completing a 44-month prison sentence for a commodities scam.
The organization's YouTube page, which is still up (its Facebook page has been removed) shows brief clips of Whitney speaking generically about prayer and teaching:
While also outlining investment schemes:
"Pastor" Whitney faces up to 23 years in federal prison.