Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Baptist Group's Leaders Convicted: Investors Lost $585 Million


PHOENIX, July 24 -- Two former executives of a failed Southern Baptist foundation were convicted here Monday in what prosecutors said was the nation's largest fraud ever targeting members of a religious group.

William Pierre Crotts, who was president of the Baptist Foundation of Arizona, and Thomas Dale Grabinski, the group's former chief legal counsel, were each convicted of three counts of fraud and one count of conducting an illegal enterprise in a scheme that lasted decades and cheated 11,000 investors across the country of about $585 million.

In a trial that lasted 10 months, prosecutors claimed that the executives were driven by shame to hide the foundation's mounting investment losses, bilking investors who were recruited in Southern Baptist churches and by Bible-quoting salesmen who visited their homes. Investors were told their money would help Southern Baptist causes, such as building new churches, and were promised above-market returns.

Instead, prosecutors said Crotts and Grabinski had designed a Ponzi scheme in which new investors were needed to pay off the secret mounting debt. Donald Conrad, an Arizona assistant attorney general, characterized Crotts and Grabinski during closing arguments as business failures who defrauded investors in part to "feed their financial fantasies" that they were savvy businessmen....


Prosecutors failed to show that Crotts and Grabinski profited personally from the fraud, which involved hiding millions of dollars of losses in shell companies they created to conceal the losses. The two men were acquitted of 23 theft counts....

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