Terry Millender, former senior pastor of Victorious Life Church in Alexandria, Virginia, who was found guilty along with his wife, Brenda, of defrauding members of his flock and friends of millions of dollars, told a local court Monday that he was just trying to make money to be generous because it "makes no sense" to "do good and be poor at the same time."
"You can't do good and be poor at the same time," the pastor told jurors before he was found guilty of 31 counts of wire fraud, money laundering and false-tax-return filing, according to The Washington Post. "You can't help the poor and be poor, it makes no sense."
Millender, 53, and his wife, Brenda, 57, who was also found guilty of seven counts of wire fraud, were founding members of Micro-Enterprise Management Group, a Virginia company with a Christian mission to help poor people in developing countries by providing short-term micro loans to start or expand existing businesses, according to the Alexandria Times. Court records show that Terry Millender served as Micro-Enterprise Management's CEO.
The couple recruited investors from their flock and friends for their company by pushing their Christian mission to help the poor and promising returns on their investment that would be "safe and backed by the assets of MEMG."
Instead of using the money to uplift the poor, however, the Millenders invested in risky trading on the foreign exchange currency market, options trading and made payments on a $1.75 million house as well as other personal expenses.
When they failed to repay their investors in a timely manner, they blamed delays in part on the 2008 financial crisis. After MEMG failed, they went on to create a different company named Kingdom Commodities Unlimited, which allegedly brokered Nigerian oil deals.
The borrowed money from investors totaling $600,000, promising high rates of returns. They reportedly used that money to pay for personal expenses, including rent and golf trips and a birthday party.
Brenda Millender's lawyer, Lana Manitta, told The Washington Post that she didn't believe that her client was involved in anything criminal and she was pleased the jury saw that her involvement wasn't at the same level as her husband's.
"I'm pleased that the jury's verdict at least acknowledges a vast difference between Mr. and Mrs. Millender's respective involvement," Manitta said. "However, our position is and will remain that Brenda Millender wasn't involved at any level that triggers criminal culpability."
Grenetta Wells, 56, chief operating officer at MEMG, who was charged as a co-conspirator to the couple, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and will be sentenced on Jan. 12, the Alexandria Times reported. The Millenders will be sentenced on March 30 and now face up to 20 years in prison.
Eric Brown, a former member of Millender's church who said there were rumors for years about financial misconduct, told Fox 5, after the couple's arrest in October 2016, that he wasn't surprised.
"It didn't really come as a shock – it was more of a sigh of relief," Brown, whose family invested thousands of dollars into the pastor's "business," said.
"I asked him like, 'Hey, that's a nice car,'" Brown recalled. "He said, 'Yeah, $100,000 car. If you save up your money, God's going to bless you.' Come to find out now, it was actually part of our money."