'Pastor' charged with bilking contributors
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A man known as "Pastor Chuck" has been charged with convincing some 2,000 low income people to make donations to his church by falsely promising they would share in the money, federal prosecutors say.
Charles Groeschel, 66, of Palm Desert, California, was arrested on Wednesday in Charlotte, North Carolina, for allegedly using his "non-profit church" to cheat victims out of some $1.4 million.
The charges against Groeschel were filed in Manhattan federal court. Prosecutors said that although the defendant lives in California most of his victims reside on the East Coast with a large group in New York City.
Prosecutors alleged that Groeschel used most of the money for himself and his Association of Individual Ministries (AIM), instead of sharing with contributors as he promised.
From May 1997 until March 1998 he allegedly told low income people that if they sent money to AIM, his "non-profit church," they could earn enough to give up their jobs and work full time for religious purposes.
As "pastor" of AIM he solicited people to become "Associate Ministers" by making weekly donations. He told victims that "we must give in order to receive" and promised substantial returns for their small but regular payments.
As part of the scheme, he said that Associate Ministers would benefit by introducing new "Associate Ministers' and receiving a percentage of "donations" made by the new ministers.
Groeschel allegedly found support in the Bible for his promises of abundant returns. Citing the New Testament, AIM solicitation materials states that "we will receive a hundred fold return in this life."
To attract contributors, he also conducted weekly telephone conference calls in the form of a sermon. These sometimes included "faith healings" performed by "Pastor Chuck." AIM also had an Internet Website.
Although AIM raised more than $1.4 million, few associate ministers received back more than a fraction of their donations, prosecutors alleged.