A Canadian husband-and-wife team swindled 8.6 million dollars out of church members before getting caught.
Marlon Gary Hibbert, 49, and his wife Verna (a.k.a. Shelley), 48, served as co-pastors at several Toronto-area churches, where they managed to convince their brethren that they were highly-skilled foreign-currency traders on the side. Potential investors were told they’d double or triple their money. Dozens took the bait; more victims are expected to come forward.
The Hibberts had a website that explained their mission, promising to turn “ghettos into gardens” and “injustice into justice”:
According to the Globe and Mail,
police allege [Hibbert] made no money on the trading scheme, and instead used funds from later investors to pay investment “returns” to earlier investors.
The couple kept the Ponzi scheme alive Bernie Madoff-style — by frequently sending fake financial statements purporting to show that the value of the investments was skyrocketing.
An audit estimates the fraud at $8.6 million, of which $4 million remains outstanding. So far, police have identified 38 victims, bilked out of a total of $2.1 million.
Many of the investors have lost homes and retirement funds to the fraud.
Although only 38 victims are known by name so far, forensic audits show that around 200 people were defrauded.
A police investigator told reporters that some of the investors are now in bad shape financially and mentally.
“They are distraught, they still can’t believe someone like him could have done this to them…some of them, it’s their life savings that they’ve taken out of the bank through their RRSP [Registered Retirement Savings Plan].” …
One of the victims … was a stay-at-home mother with two blind children, who said she and her husband lost $60,000 that they had received from her mother-in-law’s estate. At the hearing, the unidentified woman was asked about the impact on her family and replied, “This is where I cry.”
The Hibberts are alleged to have burned through millions of dollars to fund their high-rolling lifestyle, complete with luxury cars and big homes.
Police believe the fraud was run between 2005 and 2010 while the Hibberts were pastors at the Masonic Church of God with locations on Queen St. East and on Midland Ave. in Scarborough. The Hibberts are now co-pastors at Life Centre Word of Faith Ministries.
Police also charged a third pastor with fraud, alleging that Lorraine Bahlmann, 47, mailed inaccurate account statements to victims.
A Toronto PD detective said that further arrests and charges are anticipated.