Eddie Long, the legally embattled bishop of Atlanta-based New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, has been sued by 10 members of his 25,000-strong congregation for allegedly coercing them into investing in a million-dollar Ponzi scheme, it emerged Wednesday.
The case involving Long is one of the highest-profile accusations to date of so-called religious affinity fraud, in which potential investors are targeted through a faith-based organization, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Affinity fraud, as explained by the website Malecki Law, a company specializing in investment cases, is defined as fraud specifically committed against members of a unified group.
"Examples include schemes that target the elderly (often within the same community), religious institutions, persons of a particular ethnicity, or professional organizations," the website states. "Fraud is often committed by one who indoctrinates into the group in question, by convincing community leaders and other members that a crooked investment is legitimate."
Many affinity scams reportedly involve Ponzi, or pyramid, schemes, wherein new investor money is paid to prior investors, in order to make it look that the investment brings returns.
The lawsuit against Long reportedly claims that the megachurch preacher and his church "marketed, sponsored and hosted 'Wealth Tour Live' " seminars in October 2009. It was through these seminars that congregants were encouraged to invest in a scheme that promised 20 percent yearly returns. But instead of getting rewarded on their investments, claimants allege that their money, totaling more than $1 million, was instead diverted to a failing company.
The WSJ reports that the New Birth senior pastor and his church used their "confidential/fiduciary relationship" to "coerce" the 10 church members into investing with Ephren Taylor Jr., the former chief executive of City Capital Corp. in Chicago.
The suit is yet another one in a long history of the bishop's struggles with the justice system.
Most recently, Long has said that he wants back some of the settlement money he gave Jamal Parris, Spencer LeGrande and Centino Kemp - three young men who have all accused him of sexual coercion. The settlement reportedly had a confidentiality agreement, which has been broken by the plaintiffs.
One of the young men, Centino Kemp, 22, revealed Sept. 14 that he had written a book about his alleged affair with the megachurch pastor, titled The First Lady.
In early September, Long told the DeKalb County District Attorney Office to dismiss burglary charges against Anthony Boyd, his former security guard, who was among three young men accused of stealing about $100,000 worth of jewelry and electronics from Long's New Birth office in 2010, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (ACJ) reported.
A few weeks later, Long reached a settlement in a property lawsuit over a default on a $2 million loan he took out in August 2007 to buy a local gymnasium.