Sat, 23 Oct 2021

LOS ANGELES, California: Former Southern California pastor Kent R.E. Whitney was sentenced this week to 14 years in federal prison for masterminding a church-based Ponzi scheme.

Whitney, former pastor of the Westminster-based Church for the Healthy Self, was ordered to pay more than $22 million in restitution, after stealing more than $33 million.

He pleaded guilty last year to mail fraud and filing a false federal income tax return.

Whitney and his co-pastor targeted the Vietnamese community in a multi-million dollar scheme, said the Securities and Exchange Commission.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the church, which was founded by Whitney and operated from a strip mall in Orange County, did not seem to have a sanctuary.

"Mr. Whitney, upon being notified of the investigation, immediately settled with the SEC, cooperated with the U.S. Attorney's office, and accepted responsibility and entered a guilty plea. His focus is now on his family," his attorney, Kenneth White, wrote in an email on Friday, according to the Associated Press.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles, between September 2014 and April 2019 Whitney defrauded his investors and instructed church representatives to make false or misleading claims to attract investments on television and during seminars.

Whitney, despite actually investing little in actual trading accounts, sent monthly statements and faked return reports to victims, as well as false federal income tax returns, according to prosecutors.

The Los Angeles Times also reported that Whitney formed the church after serving a prison sentence for defrauding investors in a commodities scheme.

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