Ephren Taylor is reportedly known for mesmerizing audiences with his financial seminars that promise secure investments. However, many churchgoers who have followed Taylor's advice say they have yet to see any returns, and would like their money back.
Taylor, the 29-year-old CEO of holding company City Capital is facing two lawsuits filed this month, in which he is accused of targeting worshipers and being a con artist in at least five states on the East Coast since 2004, allegedly swindling tens of millions of dollars through investment fraud.
"He knew if he went to a Christian African-American and said, 'I can take your hard-earned investment money, and you're going to earn more money, but more importantly you're going to do good for your church and community,' that they would fall for it hook line and sinker," Cathy Lerman, an attorney who sued Taylor in North Carolina, told The Associated Press.
In late 2009, Taylor visited Bishop Eddie Long's Atlanta megachurch with a financial pitch. He hosted a seminar with a money-based message reportedly targeted to children and told parents to hold their questions. Long reportedly told his New Birth Missionary Baptist congregation that his investors would buy can't-miss real estate rather than take a risk on Wall Street backed Taylor's questionable sermon.
Linda Wells is one investor who is suing Taylor, the bishop and the church for allegedly abusing their spiritual authority. A member of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, Wells lost $122,000 and feels Taylor "pushed her buttons" and forcefully persuaded his parishioners into investing at least $1 million to further his personal efforts.
“Everyone was tired of losing money in the stock market and this was an opportunity for a guaranteed return on the money,” Wells told the AP.
Wells is just one of nine New Birth Missionary Baptist Church members suing Taylor in a joint claim.
"Sometimes people will participate in a game they don't have a stomach for, and when it goes south, they put the blame on those that led that game," Taylor told the AP. The CEO also said that he intends to use his money to help those who feel "negatively impacted."
According to attorneys close to the lawsuits against Taylor, the deceived worshipers were "socially conscious." But instead of profitable returns, Taylor and his company used incoming funds from fresh investors to pay debts from old clients, the AP reports.
The prosperity gospel is a main part of the ministry history at New Birth. The teachings include the message that God wants to bless the faithful with earthly riches.
Currently, the secretary of state's office in Georgia and the Secret Service are investigating Taylor. At this time, he has not faced any criminal charges.
Long released a video on YouTube earlier this year pleading with Taylor to "do the right thing" and return nearly one million dollars in funds that members of the church invested in his company.
"I'm asking you to join with me to make an appeal to Ephren Taylor and City Capital, that they would return as soon as possible the funds, and with interest preferably, to those who have invested in good faith, who have invested because of their love of God, who have invested because of love of their family," said Long, addressing his congregation in the video.
"Please, do what's right. You're a great fellow, you're a great man, you do great things, let's settle this so these families can move on," he pleaded with Taylor.