TO THE WORLD OF SWINDLING
Ponzi and Other Frauds
WILL YOU BE NEXT?
DATE OF PUBLICATION: OCTOBER 2002
PART ONE : SECULAR SCHEMES THE STORY OF PONZI
PART TWO: ADVENTIST PROBLEMS
a denomination, we have little to be proud of and much to repent of. Both
in the pulpit, and in our church papers and books, it is being taught that
our thoughts and actions--our
longer have anything to do with our salvation. In view of such teaching,
is it any wonder that our people steadily become more worldly and workers
in our churches increasingly embezzle funds?
cares the most for our church? Those who keep quiet amid such a moral
crisis or those who speak up and plead for a return to the standards and
beliefs of our forefathers?
God of heaven called us into existence in order to proclaim the Third
Angels Message. By definition, it is a message of required obedience to
the law of God by the enabling grace of Jesus, our Lord and Saviour. Will
we return to our God-given message or will we veer even further from it?
is a serious matter.
we refuse to do His will, who will defend us in the day of Judgment?
With sorrow-stricken heart, the visitor
[Nehemiah] from afar gazed upon the ruined defenses of his loved
Jerusalem. And is it not thus that angels of heaven survey the condition
of the church of Christ? Like the dwellers at Jerusalem, we become
accustomed to existing evils, and often are content while making no effort
to remedy them. But how are these evils regarded by beings divinely
illuminated? Do not they, like Nehemiah, look with sorrow-burdened heart
upon ruined walls, and gates burned with fire?
not everywhere visible the shameful tokens of backsliding from God and
conformity with a sin-loving and truth-hating world? In these days of
darkness and peril, who is able to stand in defense of Zion and show her
any good? Her spiritual state and prospects are not in accordance with the
light and privileges bestowed of God.
Southern Watchman, March
3 Bible Commentary, 1136-1137
PART ONE : SECULAR SCHEMES THE STORY OF PONZI
Ponzi was born in Italy and immigrated to New York City in 1893 at the age
of 15. Anxious to make lots of money, he set to work figuring out
get-rich-quick schemes. He served short stretches of time in both Canadian
and Atlanta prisons for various offences, including mail fraud, passing
bad checks, and an illegal immigration scheme.
to Boston in 1919, Ponzi (who started using the first name of
Charles) kept trying to figure out a successful swindle. At the same
time, he was writing letters to relatives back home in Italy. Then he hit
on an idea, which was essentially a crude form of currency exchange
the early 1900s, a person could enclose a coupon with a letter in order to
save a correspondent the cost of return postage. An organization, called
the International Postal Union, issued postal reply coupons that could be
traded in for postage stamps in many countries.
theorized that coupons could be purchased inexpensively in nations with
weak economies and redeemed for a profit in America. But, when he tried to
do it, he found that postal red tape delays absorbed his profits.
in the process, Ponzi had mentioned his idea to others and he found that
everyone he spoke to was quite enthusiastic about getting in on the
bonanza. It seemed to make sense to people; however, Ponzi was careful not
to reveal that he had already discovered the scheme was unworkable.
it was that Charles Ponzi hit on a multi-million-dollar winner! He stopped
buying international postal coupons and spent his time bringing in
was not hard to find them. They were everywhere, people who wanted to make
quick money they did not earn.
December 1919, starting with $150, Ponzi began the business of borrowing
money on promissory notes. First he invited friends and relatives (he was
not concerned about who he swindled) to get in on the ground floor.
Ponzi Plan was simple enough: He claimed that he was making 100%
profit on his money in a few months; but, he added, his problem was he did
not have enough capital to fully exploit postal rate discrepancies. So he
was willing to include investors on his deals.
told them he had received a letter that contained a reply coupon that cost
the equivalent of one cent in Spain but could be exchanged for a six-cent
stamp in the U.S.
few cautious acquaintances decided to risk a few dollars. Ponzi collected
about $1,250 from his extended family members, his Catholic priest, and
some neighbors. Ninety days later, he returned $750 in interest. Stunned
investors realized they had found a bonanza,and they told everyone!
Word spread faster than Ponzi's meteoric income.
promptly rented an important address in Boston's financial district. He
was now a prominent businessman.
was also daring. He would give a promise in writing to repay $150 in 90
days for every $100 loaned. Soon thousands of people had given him
millions of dollars. Within eight months, he took in $9 million, for which
he had issued notes with a paper value of $14 million. By then he had
agents who were paid 10% on every loan they brought in; every loan he paid
in full cost him 60%.
person could go broke quick at this rate, but not Ponzi. As long as he
kept signing up more investors, his bank accounts kept getting bigger and
a few months, Charles was taking in $200,000 a day and paying out
dividends of 50% in 90 days (he later changed it to 100% in three months).
By this time, people were begging him to take their money. Lengthy lines
were forming daily outside his office.
order to slow the return of money, he made investors wait quite a while in
long lines at the back his office at one of two redemption windows.
Once they got their money, they had to walk past lots of windows--each
with a short line of people wanting to give Ponzi their money. As a
result, few people walked out of the place with any money in their
pockets. They kept reinvesting it.
name of the game was greed. People were willing to part with their
hard-earned cash, all in the hope of getting money that did not belong
to them. Go to any racetrack or big city bookie, and you will find the
same thing. Whether it be a state lottery, video game machine, or a
roulette table at Las Vegas, people want to get money that rightfully
belongs to someone else. Because they are willing to steal, God permits
Satan to capture their minds.
early July, Ponzi was taking in $1 million a week. And he kept busy.
Charles was buying scores of suits, lots of diamonds for his wife,
limousines, and a 20-room mansion in the suburb of Lexington. One
afternoon, he walked into the Hanover Trust Co., with $3 million stuffed
in a suitcase and bought controlling interest in the bank!
then an editor at the Boston Globe began checking into the matter.
A financial expert explained to him that it was impossible to make that
much profit from postal coupons.
that the end was near, Ponzi drove to Saratoga Springs and bet $2 million
at a racetrack, in the hope of covering some of his expensive living. He
August 1920, only seven months after Ponzi set himself up in business, the
Boston Globe published an expos. The entire fraud was unmasked.
terrified investors made a run on his office, demanding their money back.
Bankruptcy soon followed.
the height of his scheme, Charles Ponzi owned only $30 worth of postal
coupons, against which he had borrowed $10 million from 20,000 investors
in Boston and New York. Most investors lost their life savings. Arrested
by federal agents, Ponzi was sent off to Plymouth Prison.
an effort to recoup some of the money which had been lost, Ponzi's
collapse spawned many lawsuits. In April 1924, the U.S. Supreme Court
ruled that any profit that some investors had made from the fraud must be
returned and divided equally among all the investors. That ruling still
Ponzi got out of jail, he moved to Florida and began selling worthless
swampland until he was arrested and deported to Italy.
the 1930s, convincing Benito Mussolini that he was a financial genius,
Charles was given a high-level job in the Italian Government. It was then
discovered that he had difficulty with basic math.
arrest, Ponzi stuffed stolen cash in several suitcases and boarded a ship
for South America. Several years later, he died in Brazil in a hospital
HOW THEY WORK
that day to this, Ponzi schemes have been outstandingly successful at
pulling in the money. Greedy investors are promised large returns on their
money with little chance of losing it. Fast, excited talk of low
risk, no risk, and quick returns at high percentages is
what you will hear.
people are at first rewarded with a little money for their participation,
the perpetrator of the scheme is thought to be something of a financial
genius. An illusion of a highly successful business is imagined. Those who
buy in are considered smart. Those who stand outside, questioning,
are considered losers. In the thinking of those he captures, Satan
has a way of turning things upside down.
number of possible schemes are endless. In one Ponzi-type decision, Kugler
vs. Koscott Interplanetary, Inc., the New Jersey Supreme Court wrote:
Fraud is infinite in variety. The fertility of mans invention in devising new schemes of fraud is so great, that the courts have always declined to define it . . All surprise, trick, cunning, dissembling and other unfair ways that are used to cheat anyone is considered as fraud.
all modern Ponzi schemes are based on a semi-plausible business as the
explanation for the astounding potential growth of the investors money.
Here are a few examples:
Communications, A San Diego-based telephone equipment leasing company
offered to sell pay phones to investors for several thousand dollars and
then immediately lease them back, locate them, and service them. The
scheme lasted four years (1992 to 1996) and took in over $60,000.
Brackett, in Greensboro, North Carolina, told her neighbors that she could
sell as many antique furniture items to wealthy people as she could get.
Her problem was that she needed money with which to buy more furniture.
She offered 10% for a 30-day-note. By 1991, when the scheme collapsed, she
owed nearly $1.5 million to over 60 investors.
Fry owned a small investment advisory firm near Baltimore. A friendly,
enthusiastic person, he impressed clients with detailed explanations of a
program he developed for investing in the volatile derivatives markets. He
claimed to have a method for maintaining the profitable upside of
derivatives investments while, at the same time, reducing the downside
risk. Fry had told people that his method involved no more risk than
investing in General Motors stock. Actually, for Fry, there was no
risk; for he invested in no derivatives at all, preferring to buy race
horses and visit Atlantic City casinos. Nearly 200 investors gave Fry a
total of more than $5 million. When the end came, he fled; but he was was
arrested 14 months later in Cincinnati.
the 1990s, a whole new wave of Ponzi schemes began when people began going
online. The internet has proven to be a handy means of defrauding people.
For more on this, go to fraud.org. A project of the National
Consumers League, it was launched in the mid-1990s. NCL president Linda
Golodner says, Our website alone has received more than 300,000 visits
from consumers and averaged 25,000 hits a week. That may not be as many
as pathlights.com receives (125,000 a week), but it is still a lot.
WHY THEY CRASH
Ponzi scheme may bring quick gains from equipment leases, bridge loans,
mortgages, or currency futures. But they are all grandchildren of what
Charles invented in 1919. And they all crash nearly as fast.
a Ponzi man gets money from a few folk, he then has to bring in a second
wave of investors. This is the crucial part. If he succeeds there, the
scheme often drives its own growth. So a certain level of word-of-mouth
publicity is essential.
a lot of money is moving around, but little or none of it is going to
anything that brings a legitimate profit. As soon as the number of new
suckers dwindles even slightly, the whole thing collapses. Here is why:
it be a Ponzi scheme or its sisters (a pyramid plan or a chain letter),
the continuation of the fraud is dependent on each new level of
participants securing more persons to join. In a four-level scheme, in
order for all of the first group of new participants to be paid, 64 people
had to join. But if it increases to 20 levels of new participants,
8,388,608 additional investors would be needed. That would total
16,777,200 people in the scheme! But such numbers are a practical
are the primary reasons the schemes are successful for a time:
People are gullible.
People are greedy.
A relative or close friend seems to be succeeding, so I can too.
The actual business operation is kept secret.
People are lonely and want to belong to something.
People are desperate to solve their problems and willing to take a chance.
there any difference between a Ponzi scheme and a pyramid scheme; and if
so, what is it?
the terms are used interchangeably by most consumer advocates and many law
enforcement people, they are not fully the same.
main difference is that, in a Ponzi scheme, the money is handed over to be
invested. But, in a pyramid scheme, the money is handed over for the right
to do something. In most instances, this is the right to become a member
and solicit new members or to open a franchise of a fast-growing
schemes are always illegal. Depending on how they are structured, pyramid
schemes may or may not be.
perpetrators keep their growing need for new money very quiet while
pyramid schemers announce their need as part of their sales pitch. In
either case, the scheme has to keep doubling, tripling, or quadrupling in
size to avoid collapse.
a typical pyramid scheme, you pay, say, $5,000 and receive a special
label; for example, you become a junior sales executive. After
recruiting two other such investors, you move up the ladder and become a
senior sales executive. As those beneath you recruit still more, you
keep moving up to branch manager, district manager, and
beyond. Everyone is pouring in money and thinking they are going to get
rich. Then the pyramid generally collapses.
above explanation may sound ridiculous, but only because it is stripped of
the high-sounding wording and complicated details (always complicated
details!) which makes it seem so plausible to the gullible.
few pyramid schemes that do not fail are those which, although offering
great rewards to those who recruit lower-level workers, manage to remain
legal only because they provide low income based on actual product sales
to real customers. Amway is an example.
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF
protect yourself from Ponzi and pyramid schemes, remember the following
Do not expect to get rich quickly. If an investment sounds too good to be
true, it probably is.
Most bad deals offer high yields and meaningless talk of guarantees
to zero risk. The promise of high returns almost always implies high
levels of risk.
Be suspicious of any investment opportunity that seems inordinately
complicated. This often is intentional; for it encourages consumers to
make the investment on faith, without really understanding what it is all
Ask an investment adviser or accountant to review the prospectus or offer
memorandum with you. Promoters who balk at this kind of review should be
treated with suspicion. They always want you to trust them, without
seeking professional counsel.
Ponzi schemes often straddle regulated and non-regulated markets but
reputations are steady things. Check out the promoters with government
regulators or industry trade groups.
concluding this section, here are a few additional pointers:
Do not give any personal information to someone who phones you. This
includes your bank number, social security number, credit card numbers,
etc. Important: if you did not initiate the call, be wary! One such scam
is a phone call which is said to be from your bank, and you are told that
they need your bank account number to check on something.
Do not agree to any bargain investment opportunity that you are offered by
phone. Several years ago, while working right here at my desk, the phone
rang and a mature woman told me about a wonderful currency exchange deal I
could get in on. Thinking to myself, Great, Ill get a chance to
learn more how these scams work, I replied, Send me a brochure of
your services. Before I could give my address, the line clicked dead.
Do not respond to any offer with which you are presented, either by mail
or in person. Back in the mid-1970s, while working in another state, I
received a phone call from a man with a New York accent, who offered to
sell me acreage in Florida. He said it was an incredible bargain
since ITT had just contracted to purchase some land 80 miles away! I
thought to myself, This is ridiculous. The man was offering empty
land out in nowhere in Flagler County. He seemed astounded that I would
turn down such an opportunity.
Beware of any phone call from someone who needs your credit card number so
you can donate by phone to some needy organization. You did not initiate
the call, so do not give your credit card number.
brief, if anyone contacts you whether in person, on the phone, by mail,
or on the internet and offers you a way to make money a little easier
and quicker it is probably fraudulent. Why is he spending his time
trying to make you rich, when he could amass all that wealth for himself?
PART TWO: ADVENTIST PROBLEMS
J. Davenport was the granddaddy of Adventist Ponzi schemes. Oddly enough,
I was the only Adventist who provided in-depth details of what happened.
Oh, yes, there were articles in the Review and brief items in a few
union papers, but relatively little information was provided. The primary
objective of the articles was to stall church members long enough from
demanding significant changes in personnel and methods of management, that
the whole thing would blow over. And it worked. Or did it? Instead of
cleaning up the problems that made such a terrible loss possible, it left
all the problems intact, so they could recur again later. And, as we will
learn below, that is exactly what happened.
would be impossible to recount the story in detail. At the time, I wrote a
total of 17 small-print tracts on the subject. That 68 pages would easily
fill a good-sized book of normal dimensions and type size. You will find
it in our 166-page reprint, Finances Tractbook ($12.50 + $3.00).
The entire story is astounding. For example, to keep the mutual
money-making operation secret, two years before the bankruptcy, church
leaders in one union told Davenport to sue a layman (John Adam) who was
investigating courthouse and other records. John Adam was in danger of
discovering how the church and its members were being fleeced!
are a few numbers to help you grasp the seriousness of the situation. They
only include money handed over to Davenport by church leaders from church
funds, without any solid collateral. (These figures do not include the $20
million given Davenport by individual members, who were encouraged to do
so by church workers who, unknown to the members, were paid finders
fees for doing so,)
Total from entities in Pacific Union: $939,367.
$8,400,000 / Montana Conference Association: $186,750 / Upper Columbia
Conference Association: $1,600,000 / West Oregon Conference Association:
$475,434 / Total from entities in the North Pacific Union: $10,662.184.
Central Union: $213,974 / Northern Union: $679,118 / Kansas Conference
Association: $661,335 / South Dakota Conference $476,443 / Total from
entities in Mid America Union: $2,030,870.
Estate Service: $1,500,000 / Total from entities in Southwestern Union:
Conference Association: $608,503 / Florida Conference Association:
$579,448 / Georgia-Cumberland Conference Association: $3,700,000 /
Kentucky-Tennessee Conference Association: $173,505 / Total from entities
in Southern Union: $5,061,456.
Total from entities in Columbia Union: $396,326.
Christian Record: $108,335 / Total from entities in General Conference:
North American Division:
was able to extract such massive amounts from church coffers, because he
arranged secret deals with church leaders. On one-year loans, he would
give them as much as 17% interest! Some became rather wealthy. They
repaid Davenport by voting on committees to invest church
funds with him.
Davenport filed for bankruptcy protection on July 22, 1981, the massive
cover-up and the money church officials and workers had been making from
it should have blown wide open. But it did not.
for time, church leaders said they needed time to investigate.
Later, a Presidents Commission was appointed to investigate the
matter and was told to wait a full year before submitting a report to
President Wilson. The members of this commission were solid Adventist
businessmen and women. This appointment brought reassurance to church
members, and they waited patiently. But the submitted report was not acted
upon. The commission had only been initiated as a stalling tactic.
Commission members were deeply disturbed that their recommendations were
that meant that new financial scandals would occur later. No limitations
had been placed on the ability of church leaders to personally profit from
their position or, without enriching themselves, make very costly,
bungling mistakes. In the years since, both have happened. No transparency
in high-level committees had been instituted; everything was kept as
secret as before. A few men still controlled immense amounts of money.
Finally, by 1990, David Dennis, chief auditor for the General Conference,
was the only high-level whistle-blower still in office. Shortly afterward,
he was fired on trumped-up charges.
SOME OTHER MAJOR CHURCH LOSSES
Davenport crisis, involving a $20 million loss to denominational funds and
a $20 million loss to trusting church members, was a Ponzi scheme.
Included among studies you will find in our Finances Tractbook are
the following major church losses which were not Ponzi-based. They all
occurred after the Davenport fiasco:
The inside story of what really happened in the Harris Pine Mills
bankruptcy. The chain of furniture factories, located in many of our
academies and based in northeastern Oregon, was abundantly solvent and
never needed to be forced into bankruptcy; yet, late in the afternoon on
Friday, December 5, 1986, church leaders did it anyway. This was another
major scandal which never need have occurred. See our Finances
Tractbook for the complete story of Clyde and Mary Harris factory,
which opened in 1916 and was given to the church in 1951. Mary died
heartbroken at what church leaders did in 1986. All but a handful of
Adventist workers were immediately fired. Only those who got to the bank
quick were able to cash their paychecks. The non-Adventist bankruptcy
referee, an experienced accountant, carefully checked and found an
abundance of resources including a standing redwood grove! He was quoted
in the public press as amazed that the church wanted to destroy Harris
Pine when it was doing quite well.
The Lake Region crisis, which involved massive amounts of improper
investment of tithe and other church funds in worthless secular projects,
including a shopping center, was another tragedy. For several years,
church leaders poured massive amounts of money into court battles,
fighting banks, which wanted to foreclose because they were not being
paid. Eventually, the inevitable occurred and the church members finally
learned what had happened. The General Conference had to pay out an
immense amount of money to cover expenses caused by those delaying court
Like the other crises, the Adventist Living Centers bond default was
hardly mentioned in the Review or union papers, but you will find
the story here. As you will learn in the section below on AHS, because of
AHS activities, the Adventist Church lost a lot of credibility in the
financial centers of America.
Two of the Finances Tractbook deals with stock investments by our
church in the United States. One problem is investment in types of stocks
we should not own. Another is a danger inherent in the owning of those
stored-up stocks; eventually, our church will probably lose those invested
funds when the National Sunday Law crisis breaks.)
Then there are the individuals who take advantage of the system. Because
church leaders are not accountants, they trust people who appear to be.
From time to time, individuals are able to embezzle church funds because
of the trust reposed in them. This has happened in a number of our church
offices and institutions in America. (One example would be Theft at
Southern New England Conference [WM804], done to help cover a
lawyers gambling debts). Others occur from time to time. When, from the
pulpit and in church literature, we teach our people that obedience to the
Ten Commandments is not required for salvation, a pandoras box of
deceit, thievery, and licentiousness is opened.
Then there are the hospital scams, in which the administrators emptied the
till through inflated executive salaries plus incompetent management and
ruined hospitals (The Problem at Fuller [WM120-121], The SNEC
Commission Report [WM150], Boston Regional Medical Center [WM875],
Boston Crisis Deepens [WM918], and Shady Grove Shakes the Church
PROBLEMS AT AHS
we find ourselves confronting, not problems at individual hospitals but,
financial crises caused by our multihospital organizations.
Health Systems (AHS) has been the source of many difficulties and frauds
in our church. Our denominational hospitals were initially built by the
sacrificial help of faithful believers, many of whom had little money to
meet their own needs. These facilities were originally owned by local
conferences. Later, ownership was quietly transferred to the unions. Many
of those transfers occurred in the 1950s and early 1960s. Then, just as
quietly, something new occurred in the early and mid-1970s: Ownership of
all our denominational hospitals in the United States were quietly
transferred to one or another of several Adventist Health Systems.
This was done without consulting the membership who had paid to have those
were corporations separate from the conferences, theoretically; yet they
were under direct General Conference control, but with AHS, General
Conference, and union executives on their governing boards.
few men now controlled millions and millions of dollars in medical
facilities and equipment. The only people blocking their way to enriching
themselves were the votes of the union and General Conference leaders who
sat on the AHS boards. But this was taken care of by means of private
agreements: If rubber-stamp votes were given, the sons of the leaders
would be hired into high-salaried AHS jobs; and, when a church leader
later got into trouble because of mismanagement, he would be quietly
slipped into upper-level AHS positions. Those who received wrist slaps
over the Davenport deal were dutifully hired into AHS. More transfers to
lucrative AHS positions came later.
AHS leaders had the boards under their control, several amazing
developments began occurring in the 1980s.
Although, by the fall of 1983, our entire U.S. church had only a few
million in total debt on all their churches, agencies, headquarters, and
publishing houses, our AHSs in the U.S. had racked up a billion
dollars in debt! They had done it within only ten years after the
first AHS incorporated!
of many separate, economical hospital managers, the several regional AHSs
now controlled them all. Their executives had gone on a spending spree,
mortgaging our existing hospitals, floating long-term bonds, and using the
money to buy third-rate hospitals close to closure and remodeling them.
But that did not necessarily solve the fact that they did not have an
adequate patient intake.
I wrote my first four-part expos on it in the fall of 1983, AHS leaders
who had been denying for over a year that it was a problem, immediately
said they were going to heavily reduce that debt within a year. We waited
to see what would happen. One year later, they were up to $2 billion in
debt! When people become used to being spendthrifts, it is hard to change
their way of life.
long would it take our church to pay off a billion-dollar debt? Assuming
no interest, it would take a thousand years. But, add about 6% compound
interest and see what payoff date you arrive at!
in the 1980s, unexpected, new federal regulations made it much more
difficult for U.S. hospitals to receive the large amount of federal money
for patients they had become accustomed to. Yet AHS was saddled with an
excessive debt, which it could hardly repay. The entire AHS in the United
States owed more than it owned! The total declared assets of all its
hospitals, offices, equipment, vehicles, and supplies was less than the
amount it owed in long-term debt not counting the interest that it would
have to pay, year after year, on those debts.
will find all this in our 186-page Medical/Publishing Tractbook ($14.00
Spirit of Prophecy blueprint for our hospitals is strictest economy and no
debt. (Read chapter 9 in my Medical Missionary Manual; it has a
section of quotations on hospitals and debt.)
At the height of this massive financial crisis for AHS, its executives hit
on a way to wonderfully improve the situation! They convened committee
meetings and talked union and General Conference leaders into approving
their request to raise executive salaries to astronomical levels! Instead
of focusing on strictest economy, they decided to live as high as
possible, till the ship sank entirely! (High Wages for AHS Executives
is what they did, and they have continued to draw fabulous salaries ever
since. Salaries of AHS executives were pushed up to $250,000 a year (with
hospital managers receiving about $200,000 and lower-level office
executives receiving $180,000). Today, it is more like $350,000 on up for
the executives. You will recall that when David Dennis, the head auditor
of the General Conference wrote a single letter of protest to President
Neal C. Wilson, it ultimately led to Dennis firing on false charges.
Not one other person in the church dared say a word.
The third major event was the occurrence of inter-church lawsuits,
bankruptcies, and similar problems. You will find some of it in our Finances
Tractbook: The battle over ownership of Ardmore Hospital, the SNEC
Commission Report, the first of several AHS bond defaults, the Arizona
Conference lawsuit against AHS/West, and the Kettering lawsuit.
the end of one fiscal year in the mid-1980s, one AHS issued false reports
of its financial status in order to maintain a high-bond rating. This was
done so it could float more bonds (more long-term debt) at a more
at least one instance, executives in one of our several AHSs purposely
siphoned the funds out of a subsidiary operation and drove it into
bankruptcy. Then they split the money among themselves.
are men who have grown fabulously rich because of their connections with
AHS. Just the salaries alone would make them millionaires within three
years. But some pursued even faster ways to do it. (See Adventist
Hospitals: 1970-2000 [WM1017-1018].)
could our church get itself into such a situation? Young men decide to
enter the ministry and take theology at our colleges, where they are
taught that obedience to Gods law is legalism. After they are hired,
those especially good at managing committees move up in the church and
become conference, union, division, and General Conference leaders. Yet
many of them have never had a single course in basic accounting. This
renders them prone to errors of various kinds or to being fooled by shrewd
individuals who appear to have financial ability.
having proved themselves to be good yes-men on committees, they are moved
into key positions in AHS.
mentioned earlier, a related problem concerns church leaders who have been
good at approving AHS actions in committee meetings. They, and/or their
sons, are eventually hired as heads of AHS hospitals. That is what
happened to the president of Columbia Union Conference. He was rewarded,
not only for a 1990-1991 money-laundering scheme which secretly paid the
wives of the General Conference and North American Division presidents
from a Union Worthy Student Fund (see our book, Collision Course,
for more on this), but he was also rewarded for years of favorable
votes at AHS meetings, involving medical facilities in his territory.
reward given him was the presidency of Shady Grove Hospital, situated not
far from our world headquarters. He then set to work to pay himself and
fellow conspirators fabulous salaries for several yearswhich had the
effect of nearly bankrupting the hospital. Hospital services were so
heavily reduced that a woman died in the hallway. The Washington Post
investigated and opened the entire scandal to the public. (See Shady
Grove Shakes the Church [WM933-934].)
PONZIS AFFECTING THE FAITHFUL
will now return to the Ponzi plan. Ponzi operators have not only worked on
our leaders, but also on individual believers.
Davenport arranged with Adventist workers to be feeders and refer
church members to him. He gave the workers finders fees as a
reward. In addition, he offered them extremely good interest rates on
short-term loans to him. Even conference association leaders (the person
you go to if you want to set up a trust with the church) told the members
to, instead, hand their life savings over to Davenport! (See our Finances
Tractbook for details.) Those men were handsomely rewarded for their
treachery. Conference and union presidents knew what they were doing, but
were themselves given highest-interest short-term loan rates for approving
the entrusting of large blocks of church funds to Davenport.
members lost $20 million in the Davenport collapse. To our knowledge,
although the church recovered part of its own $20 million in losses,
almost no individual members did. Remember Jeremiah 17:5-8.
After Davenport came other Ponzi schemers who preyed on our people. One
example was a man named McKenzie. I do not now recall his last name. He
operated in California, Arizona, and Texas in the late 1970s and early
1980s. A friend of mine in southern California collected a lot of
information about his operations and faithfully notified church leaders in
Southern California Conference, Southeastern California Conference,
Arizona Conference, and Texas Conference but none of them would do
anything about the matter.
is the work of the shepherd to protect the sheep, but some shepherds only
protect themselves. Peace in our time, is their motto. But that is
the kind of attitude that has nearly destroyed our U.S. Adventist
retirement system. Instead of fixing a problem, leaders do nothing,
because it will take some work to solve the problem. But every passing
year only intensifies the difficulties. (See our 28-page, Our Church
Retirement Crisis, $3.00 + $2.00.)
would approach Adventist believers and get their money for one scheme or
another. One of them was a silver mine supposed to be somewhere on the
eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada range.
a time, he worked with Davenport, processing phony papers for him.
Whatever happened to McKenzie, I do not know. I mentioned his activities
in one of my tracts on Davenport.
In the mid-1980s, a financial scam developed in the Northwest. Some
workers at Walla Walla College become involved, one of whom I am sure was
roped into it without realizing it was a Ponzi scheme. Unfortunately, when
everything collapsed, it ruined his denominational career. I had known him
years earlier; he was a man of sterling character. Many Adventists in
Washington, Oregon, and Idaho lost money on the venture.
Another scheme developed in northern California, which took the life
savings of a number of our people. One individual received a jail
sentence. He later told me on the phone that he was an innocent victim. I
am less acquainted with the circumstances of this case.
The Rebok Foundation scam at Fletcher, our largest North Carolina
Adventist church, was a big scam but somewhat localized to that area. It
centered around the pastor, an investment adviser, and a purported plan to
obtain invested money with which to start a drug rehabilitation program
for young people. When the crash came, each blamed the other as being the
swindler. Regardless of who was at fault, Adventist Church members lost a
very large amount of money.
Then there was a Ponzi scheme that showed itself in a variety of places;
so many in fact, I am still not sure if they were all part of the same
scam. But here are some of the pieces, all of which occurred at close to
the same time, and all purportedly concerning foreign currency exchange
- An investment adviser held a seminar, at an independent Adventist
ministry, and extracted a fair amount of money from some of those
attending. One who did not invest phoned me and told what had happened.
- The leader of an independent ministry invested $35,000 with the adviser.
- An independent group held a meeting not far from Loma Linda. After an
independent ministry leader spoke and took up an offering to help him in
his work, the investment adviser took the podium, gave his
presentation, and had the effrontery to ask that the money just
collected for the ministry be given to him to invest! The ministry leader
wisely refused to hand it over.
- Church leaders in the Pacific Union, Columbia Union, and Atlantic Union
united in a project to produce new colporteur sales materials. The head of
the project, based at Columbia Union headquarters, along with the
president of the Columbia Union, were approached with a quick-get-rich
opportunity. Without asking either the Columbia Union committee or the
other two sponsoring unions, the union president and a small committee
voted to hand over $2.4 million to an investor who promised to place
the money in an international banking program which would bring
their colporteur organization returns of up to $100,000,000. It was
only because a brave soul in union headquarters objected, that the money
was not transferred to a Canadian bank. Ultimately, $264,500 was sent to
Canada and totally lost (Financial Loss in the Columbia Union
- Later still, an investment adviser, who had contacted Adventists all
across the country and whose base of operations was in Riverside,
California, was arrested and jailed.
believe all five of the above items, which occurred within about a year of
each other, related to the same currency exchange investor; but, of this,
I am not certain.
At the conclusion of my large 15-part tract study on the Davenport swindle, I said it was obvious that there was no indication that any changes would be made which could guard either our institutions or the church members from later penetration by new swindlers, or even warn them of developing problems. An atmosphere of every man does what is right in his own eyes seems to exist.
I send this warning to you. Be careful. Any deal or financial investment
opportunity which looks unusually good--probably is a swindle.
Here are summaries of several paragraphs in my two-part study, Finances and Investments [AS1-2], published 20 years ago:
in how every one of Gods dollars is used (WM 267). Not to
overreach in the gathering in of funds (3T 510-511). Improper ways
to raise money (COL 54). Guard the funds and use them right (7T
215). Five basic business principles (Ed 137). Burying it in
the world instead of using it (5T 151-152). The love of worldly
acquisition (4T 82). Surplus means into treasury, to win souls (CS
45). Heaping up treasure: a sign of the last days (9T 14).
Saving up a large surplus dishonors God (GW 456-457). No gain in
copying the world (Ev 139). The church is not to be in the
money-making business (8T 215). Deceitful, alluring projects (7T
you would do good with your means, do it at once lest Satan get it in his
hands and thus hinder the work of God. Many times, when the Lord has
opened the way for brethren to handle their means to advance His cause,
the agents of Satan have presented some enterprise by which they were
positive the brethren could double their means. They take the bait; their
money is invested, and the cause, and frequently themselves, never receive
a dollar. 5 Testimonies, 154.