Dallas -- A businessman was charged Tuesday with exploiting his connections to evangelical Christians to create a massive Ponzi scheme that defrauded religious organizations and their leaders out of more than $160 million, federal officials said.
Gregory Earl Setser, 47, and four associates of IPIC International Inc. and related companies, were charged with one count each of securities fraud and two counts of money laundering, U.S. Attorney Jane J. Boyle said.
"IPIC's CEO, Gregory Setser, a self-styled former minister and apostle of the Christian faith, is robbing Peter to pay Paul -- but only after taking a massive cut for himself, his family and his affiliates," Securities and Exchange Commission attorney Toby M. Galloway said in a complaint.
Since July 2000, Setser and his associates, on behalf of IPIC and the Home Recovery Network Inc., raised more than $160 million by fraudulently offering and selling unregistered securities to members of evangelical Christian congregations, the complaint alleged.
Calls to IPIC's headquarters in Ontario, Calif., on Tuesday were met with a recording that said all circuits were busy. Calls to Setser's home in Alta Loma, Calif., were not returned.
Federal documents did not specifically identify the alleged victims.
Setser used his relationship with retired preacher Ralph Wilkerson to meet potential investors and sell IPIC securities, Galloway said. Wilkerson introduced Setser to televangelists and pastors, who in turn introduced Setser to their followers, according to the complaint.
Arrested along with Setser was his wife, Cynthia Faye Setser, 46, who was IPIC vice president and treasurer; the Setsers' daughter-in-law, Charnelle Setser, 21, an office manager; Gregory Setser's sister, Deborah S. Setser, 38, an IPIC officer; and Torsten Thomas Henschke, 48, described as the international director of IPIC Atlantic.
Henschke is a minister and member of the board of directors for Christ for all Nations, the Orlando, Fla.-based ministry of televangelist Reinhard Bonnke, according to the SEC complaint.
According to federal officials, the defendants represented to investors that IPIC and its affiliated companies operated a highly successful import and export business. They promised a 25 to 50 percent return on investments in a three- to six-month period.
Payments made to some investors were not returns on their investments but were from funds invested by other people, officials said. Most of the invested funds were converted to the defendants' personal use, according to the indictment.