The Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday charged the pastor of one of the largest Protestant churches in the country as well as a barred broker with defrauding elderly churchgoers out of $3.4 million by selling them interests in defunct, pre-Revolutionary Chinese bonds.
The SEC’s complaint alleges that, in 2013 and 2014, Kirbyjon Caldwell, senior pastor at Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, and Gregory Alan Smith, a self-described financial planner who the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority barred from the broker-dealer business after his firing in 2010, targeted vulnerable and elderly investors with false assurances that the bonds — collectible memorabilia with no meaningful investment value — were worth millions of dollars.
The SEC also brought actions against Caldwell and Smith’s attorney, Shae Yatta Harper, who is charged with aiding and abetting their fraud.
According to the complaint against Harper, at Caldwell’s direction, “Harper drafted participation agreements in the bonds that were sent to investors,” and she also “controlled the bank account to which most investors sent their funds to invest in this investment opportunity, and distributed investor funds to Caldwell and Smith at their direction.”
Between April 2013 and August 2014, the complaint states, the defendants raised at least $3.4 million through a scheme to defraud approximately 29 investors through the fraudulent offer and sale of the bonds. Some of the elderly participants liquidated their annuities to invest in the scheme.
Caldwell, 64, has been a board member of various public companies, and currently serves on the board of NRG Energy, which is traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Caldwell also acted as a director to a mutual fund complex during the relevant time period. He and his wife are the co-owners of LDT LLC, a Wyoming limited liability company that received and held investor funds.
Smith, 55, is a resident of Shreveport, Louisiana. Between December 1999 and July 2010, Smith was associated with a registered broker-dealer. In July 2010, he was permanently barred from association with any FINRA member in any capacity, in part for commingling investor funds in his business account and for misappropriating investor funds.
“Our laws do not tolerate materially misleading statements to exploit vulnerable investors who, in this case, looked up to a prominent pastor,” said Eric Bustillo, director of the SEC’s Miami Regional Office. “Caldwell took advantage of his victims, encouraging them to remain faithful even as he and Smith broke that faith, stealing from elderly investors in an outright fraud.”