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Ex-Merrill Rep Who Scammed Pastors Sentenced to 7 Years in Prison

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What You Need to Know

  • Phillip W. Conley previously pleaded guilty to one count of securities fraud, admitting to swindling millions of dollars from victims in several states.
  • Conley was with Merrill Lynch from 2012 until 2014.
  • After leaving Merrill, he formed a company called ALPAX and persuaded people to invest in various false ventures.

The former Merrill Lynch rep who was indicted last year by a federal grand jury and accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission in a 2020 complaint of scamming pastors, churchgoers and other investors out of about $5 million between January 2014 and September 2018 has been sentenced to more than seven years in prison.

Phillip W. Conley, 38, of Jacksonville, Florida, was sentenced on Friday to 87 months in prison for defrauding West Virginia churches, pastors and others of almost $5 million, said William J. Ihlenfeld II, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia.

Conley previously pleaded guilty to one count of securities fraud, admitting to swindling millions of dollars from victims in several states.

On Dec. 3, 2015, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority suspended Conley from association with any broker-dealer in any capacity for failing to comply with a FINRA arbitration award, the SEC pointed out last year, after he was indicted on six counts of mail fraud and one count of securities fraud in August 2020.

Conley was with Merrill Lynch from 2012 until 2014, according to his profile on FINRA’s BrokerCheck website, which included five disclosures over the course of his seven years in the industry. Merrill Lynch was the last company that he worked for in the industry before FINRA suspended him, according to BrokerCheck.

Merrill did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

More Details

Conley had portrayed himself as an investment advisor even after his broker’s license was suspended in December 2015, Ihlenfeld said.

More on this topic

After leaving Merrill, he formed a company called ALPAX and persuaded people to invest in false ventures including student housing construction, high-yield fixed income securities, oil and gas technology, mineral rights and timber leasing, Ihlenfeld alleged.

Conley provided investors with a false sense of security by mailing them dividend statements that misstated the value of their investment accounts, according to Ihlenfeld.

His victims included churches in Charleston, Morgantown and Parkersburg, West Virginia, as well as small-business owners and his own friends and family members, Ihlenfeld alleged.

Conley spent the money he stole on private jets, designer clothes, fine dining, jewelry, housing and living expenses, according to Ihlenfeld.

“Securities fraud is a terrible crime and often has a devastating impact,” Ihlenfeld said. “Conley was very persuasive and groomed his victims, convincing them that these were legitimate investment opportunities. Unfortunately, it was a scam in which Conley robbed investors of their life savings,” Ihlenfeld said in a statement.

“Conley lived a luxurious life, but in reality, lined his pockets by orchestrating a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme that took money from his own family members and other victims,” according to Mike Nordwall, FBI Pittsburgh special agent in charge.

In addition to the prison sentence, Conley was ordered to forfeit any property purchased from the proceeds of the crimes and to pay a monetary judgment of $4.9 million, Ihlenfeld said. His prison sentence is also to be followed by 36 months of supervised release, and he was hit with a special assessment fee of $100, according to a court document.