Ephren Taylor has been accused of a multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme that targeted African-American churchgoers. Taylor is facing lawsuits and federal charges and has been accused of swindling people out of over $11 million by convincing them to invest in fraudulent businesses. He was able to find investors by touring churches and presenting himself as a financial advisor. He has done these presentations at high profile mega churches, including Eddie Long’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta and Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston.
Taylor gained media attention when he claimed to become a millionaire at age 18 because of a video game he created. He used this to gain creditability for his “Building Wealth Tour.” He was very popular with his audiences. “We’re going to show you how to get wealth and use it for the building of his kingdom,” he told one group of New Birth congregants, according to ABC News.
According to one of the slighted investors, Taylor used Biblical scripture to gain the trust of potential investors. He also seemed to gain the trust of the pastors of the churches his visited, including an endorsement from Long. “Everything he says is based on the word of God,” Long said of Taylor to his congregation in 2009.
Lillian Wells, one of the investors, said Taylor promised a return of 20 percent if she invested in City Capital Corporation, a real estate venture. She trusted Taylor and invested her life savings. When she went to collect on her investment, Taylor vanished. “I couldn’t get a hold of anybody,” Wells told ABC News. “You just can’t get them. That’s it. You just couldn’t get anybody.”
The Securities and Exchange Commission has been investigating and found that Taylor spent the money on personal expenses like car payments and household bills. The victims have not been able to get much help from the churches they attend. Wells is suing Long and New Birth with several other congregants. Long does not accept responsibility for the scams and made a YouTube video urging Taylor to come forward and give back the money.
Lakewood Church staff said they only allowed Taylor in to talk about what they call “Biblical financial principals” and stopped him when he started to present himself as a financial advisor.
Taylor is believed to have scammed people in at least 40 states. His whereabouts are currently unknown.
Wells said she hopes he is caught so he can’t hurt anyone else. “We’re suffering because of what he did,” said Wells. “It needs to be stopped.”