- The Washington Times - Monday, March 1, 2004

ROANOKE (AP) — A self-proclaimed “financial pastor” from Troutville preyed upon more than 140 Christian investors — many of them from the Roanoke Valley — and has cheated them out of as much as $20 million since 1986, federal authorities said.

A federal grand jury in Roanoke indicted William Thomas Warren on charges of securities fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud and criminal contempt in the reputed scheme.

Mr. Warren, 52, hosted free financial seminars, solicited funds from Christian investors at churches and sought money from investors through his Web site, U.S. Attorney John Brownlee said at a news conference Thursday.

“You must give God what He asks,” reads text on the Web site. “Pay God — and do it before you pay your monthly bills. If you are willing to do this, the usual result is: Your income will gradually increase. Your expenses will miraculously decline. Problems in your life will be reduced. Good fortune and positive things will come to you.”

Mr. Warren, who was hiding in a crawl space in his basement when law-enforcement authorities went to his home to arrest him Jan. 31, is in federal custody at the Roanoke City Jail. He could face up to 60 years in prison and a fine of up to $5.5 million, Mr. Brownlee said.

Mr. Warren’s attorney, Brad Braford of Roanoke, said he could not comment on the charges because he had not seen the indictment or talked to Mr. Warren about it.

The largest number of investors that Mr. Brownlee said were duped are from Washington state. Mr. Warren previously had run into trouble with federal authorities there in connection with fraudulent statements he was accused of making about securities he was selling.

The criminal-contempt charge stems from what prosecutors say was Mr. Warren’s violation of an injunction against committing securities fraud.

Mr. Warren promised high rates of return on his Web site and also at his financial seminars, according to the indictment. He also said in promotional material that a good portion of the investment profits would fund “foreign Christian evangelism,” “foreign missionary support” and “Bible school student aid.”

Mr. Warren set up what is referred to as a Ponzi scheme, according to the indictment. He would pay earlier investors with money obtained from later investors.

He set up a “fast-track” investment program, in which he said investors had to meet certain “hardship” criteria, according to the indictment. One such person met the criteria because he had a critically ill wife, according to the indictment. That man invested $80,000 and got back only $10,000, the indictment says.

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