Judge orders Seattle man to repay $7.8 million for running ‘pay to pray’ website scam
By Maria L. La Ganga
Businessman Benjamin Rogovy has been ordered to repay millions for ‘deceptive’ website con that charged thousands of people for prayers
The testimonials were glowing: Pastor John Carlson prayed for them and God delivered on his prayers. A healthy baby. A negative HIV test. A winning lottery ticket. The senior pastor at the Christian Prayer Center (CPC) saved homes from foreclosure and put cancer into remission.
Except, of course, he didn’t.
The online prayer service was a fake, the creation of a Seattle businessman who was shut down this week by the Washington state attorney general’s office after bilking 125,000 people across the country out of more than $7 million.
Benjamin Rogovy was ordered to stop what attorney general Bob Ferguson called “unfair and deceptive business practices” and repay the money he took from unwitting customers along with attorney costs, court fees and $1m in civil penalties if he does not comply with the order.
“I believe in the power of prayer,” Ferguson said in a statement. “What I do not believe in and what I will not tolerate is unlawful businesses that prey upon people – taking advantage of their faith or their need for help – in order to make a quick buck.”
Rogovy’s websites — christianprayercenter.com and oracioncristiana.org — offered to pray for desperate English and Spanish speakers if they paid between $9 and $35 for the service. He created fake ministers who would assist with religious ceremonies and were available for consultation. The CPC also used the name “Pastor Eric Johnson”; according to the attorney general’s office neither Pastor Johnson nor Pastor Carlson exist.
In addition, Rogovy locked his hapless victims into recurring monthly payments through a “deliberately confusing website”.
“The AGO investigation found that once consumers submitted and paid for a prayer request, they were directed to a Web page that gave them the option to receive ‘continued blessings’,” Ferguson’s statement said. “Between 2011 and 2015, CPC collected more than $7 million from 125,000 consumers nationwide. Some of these consumers were charged repeatedly, resulting in a total of over 400,000 transactions.”
Consumers must file a complaint with the Washington state attorney general’s office by 12 June to receive a refund. They can do so online, and will receive an e-mail from the Christian Prayer Center by 6 April informing them of the process.
On Thursday, the fake prayer websites told viewers: “The Christian Prayer Center is now closed. We thank you for all the prayers, and we cherish the opportunity to have created a place where Christians could meet to support each other.” The sites then referred viewers to other prayer centers, including ones that did not ask for payment in return.
The center did not immediately respond to a message requesting comment left on a phone number listed on its still functioning Facebook page.
Ferguson said Rogovy also defrauded consumers through another fake, for-profit ministry called the Christian National Church, and the so-called Consumer Complaint Agency (CCA), which promised to hold businesses accountable for a fee of $25.
Rogovy has been ordered to repay around 40,000 victims nationwide a total of $750,000. No claim needs to be filed to receive restitution from the CCA.
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Watch a report on Rogovy’s scam, as aired on KOMO-TV, below.