Thursday, August 19, 2004



This sort of thing really irritates me:
7 arrested; victims lured by trust fund

Authorities say the story was as compelling as it was bogus: Descendants of Mormon church founder Joseph Smith had created a $1.6 trillion trust fund held overseas, and investors were needed to bring the money back home.

The FBI said yesterday it had broken up a massive fraud ring operating out of an Ocean Beach liquor store and a Mission Valley apartment complex. It said flim-flam artists flew to Utah, Texas, Idaho and other states pitching ways to broker phony deals.

Over 100 victims were bilked out of between $20 million and $50 million . . .

"They targeted largely people of means without a lot of sophistication," Lee said.

Investors were sometimes promised annual returns of 100 percent for 99 years.

"There were religious undertones to virtually every part of this," Lee said, noting that investigators observed prayer meetings held with some potential investors.

Those behind the scam claimed a link to descendants of Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but were in no way connected to the church, Lee said.
Now, part of me would like to say that some Mormons are easy prey to flim-flam artists because of their piety and willingness to trust. Unfortunately, I don't think that's the case. It's more a matter of gullibility and greed.

When scammers target Mormons qua Mormons, they use religion as a "foot in the door," so to speak (as was the case in the above story). The remainder of the scam, however, relies on the victims' too-eagerly-given trust coupled with the victims' greedy desire for a quick buck. I love my fellow Latter-day Saints, I really do. But mixing religion and business in this way is just a bad, bad idea.


UPDATE: Yep, I was right. This quote from FBI Special Agent Jan Caldwell makes it pretty clear that the victims were in it for the moolah:
"Among other promises, Harrell [the alleged mastermind of the scheme] guaranteed some investors 100 percent annual return on their money for 99 years," Caldwell said. "Harrell's victims ranged from Florida to Oregon, and the individual investments spread from $2,000 to millions."