A Missouri pastor at a church called “Passion for Truth Ministries” will serve prison time for lying to and defrauding elderly investors, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
Jim Staley, 40, was sentenced Wednesday to 7 years in prison and ordered to repay elderly investors $3.3 million. He pleaded guilty to four counts of wire fraud and profited $570,000 in the scam of elderly people who trusted him because of his Christian faith and family values. Some of them were suffering from dementia.
Although he apologized, the daughter of a man who lost $155,000 in Staley’s scam said it wasn’t sincere and was staged for church members.
His victims were not members of his parish.
Despite being warned by the court that not accepting personal responsibility for his actions could earn him more prison time, Staley has said in sermons that he was “in the wrong place at the wrong time” and blamed the economy.
Staley has only paid a tiny fraction of restitution owed to victims — $1,950, despite the fact he lives rent free with an annual church salary of $127,000.
As a sales agent for B&B Equity Group, a California company, Staley misled victims into believing that billionaire Warren Buffett was an investor and convinced people to cash out on annuities knowing they would lose money. He continued to sell investments even after the state issued a cease and desist order. Staley did not mention the order to clients.
Staley ran a controversial church ministry called the “Christian Roots Movement” which advocates following the Bible in the manner of early Christians, before churches “started adding and subtracting from the word of God.”
He said that supporters had visions of “high-ranking demonic generals,” which Staley interpreted to be the FBI agents investigating him.
Even then, Staley was beset by financial troubles and allegations of fraud. One former church member told the Post-Dispatch he left because of it.
“The dishonesty was a big problem for me,” Josh Ernst told the paper. “I started to see a pattern — he used the same sorts of excuses, blamed other people, and nothing was ever his fault or his responsibility. That happened one too many times.”