It might have been a warning sign when he said he’d found Noah’s Ark.
Ponzi schemes are notoriously attractive at the onset, then look awfully stupid in the rear-view mirror. The latest, in Texas, involves conservative Christian lawmakers and a man who promised outsized profits on energy trading software, milking lawmakers with his alleged Christian bona fides.
“I ran into him at a conservative event,” state Rep. Bill Zedler told the Dallas Morning News. “What he had said was he was in the Mount Ararat region and they had come up with some stuff. He may have given me a DVD.”
In essence, they say they put their faith in a man who played at being godly and literally buttered his pitch in bible verse.
“You should have seen his house,” Zedler said. “He really played up his Christian credentials. On the ceiling there was a dome and around the dome there was a Bible verse. To me, he used that as a way to get us to try to put our guard down.”
Archer Bonemma, the businessman lawmakers have accused of fraud, pitched them on a startup which he said would reap large profits on energy trades. Shortly after the state representatives made their bets — which totaled $2.5 million — the startup filed for bankruptcy.
The Texas lawmakers said they think Bonemma targeted them because they were religious men.
Zedler, for example, has used his faith and “family values” as a public relations technique — both for his campaigns and to prevent developments near his own home. On his campaign site, he notes he “served on the Board of Elders for Park Springs Bible Church, and on the Advisory Board of the Arlington Pregnancy Center.”
Zedler, a Republican from Arlington, filed an amendment to the state’s general appropriations bill, SB 1, that would prohibit public colleges and universities from using state funds to fund “Gender and Sexuality Centers”. Zedler’s bill alleges these campus resource centers “support, promote, or encourage any behavior that would lead to high risk behavior for AIDS, Hepatitis B or any other sexually transmitted disease.”
Zedler’s office did not return call for comment. Zedler first gained notoriety for leading a grassroots blockade against a Hooters restaurant set to open near his neighborhood in Arlington and was subsequently elected to the Texas House in 2003.
A second family values lawmaker, Wayne Christian, was also netted in the scheme. Christian is a financial analyst who has played to religious elements of his party in the state legislature. He’s referred to a pro-choice state senator as a “terrorist” and authored a bill that sought to ban colleges or universities from prohibiting studies based on creationism or “intelligent design.”
Texans for Public Justice, a nonprofit campaign watchdog group, made light of the irony of both lawmakers’ investments in comments to the Morning News.
“It doesn’t surprise me that we’re having people running this state who have poor judgment and are falling for this stuff,” said research director Andrew Wheat. “I wouldn’t want these guys running the state. It looks like they found Noah’s Ark and it sunk.”
“Imagine that — misusing faith as a way to hurt people,” the liberal watchdog Texas Freedom Network wrote on their website Saturday. “Golly. How could these politicians have seen that coming?”
When the company collapsed, Christian, King, Paxton, Zedler and other investors sued, claiming they were victims of a Ponzi-like scheme. That’s also a bit ironic. The good-government, anti-corruption group Texans for Public Justice reports that those four politicians have received more than $620,000 since 2008 from Texans for Lawsuit Reform — a political action committee that wants to make it harder for Texans to sue when they think they have been wronged.
After a settlement of the lawsuit, the Pirin Electric investors will get back just a small fraction of the money they lost. Meanwhile, Christian, King, Paxton and Zedler want voters to trust them to make better decisions with taxpayer money than they do with their own.