They hoped they would see green, but now they’re just seeing red. As in furious.
Churchgoers at Bishop Eddie Long’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga., have filed a class action lawsuit alleging that they were victims of a Ponzi scheme orchestrated by Long and businessman Ephren Taylor.
According to the lawsuit, filed on Wednesday in a DeKalb County, Georgia, state court, ten parishioners lost more than a million dollars after investing in City Capital. In Oct. 2009, Long held a three-day investment seminar at his church, encouraging members to invest in Taylor’s company.
"I am responsible for everyone I bring before you and what they say," Long said at the seminar, according to the lawsuit. "The gentleman that I am going to bring before you is an ordained minister. That gives me great pride to bring him for you."
Those who jumped on board lost every penny, to find out later that not only was Taylor not licensed to sell investment products, but that his company was in financial trouble.
Earlier this year, Long took to YouTube to publically call out Taylor and urge him to “do what’s right” and return the parishioners’ money with interest. Though it’s not clear whether Long took part in the scheme, or if he knew of City Capital’s financial woes, both the church and Long were compensated for soliciting the investment, contends the lawsuit.
Taylor is no longer with the company, and has not commented in press reports.
Long’s congregants aren’t the only ones taking action against the former CEO, however. In a lawsuit filed earlier this month in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Taylor and other individuals and financial institutions are accused of helping to perpetrate Taylor’s Ponzi scheme with wire fraud, interstate transportation of stolen property, money laundering and racketeering, among other violations.
"Today is the first step in achieving justice for hundreds of victims whose tens of millions were supposed to go toward 'socially conscious' investments, but instead enriched Ephren Taylor and his cohorts," said Cathy J. Lerman, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers. "This self-described minister-- who targeted and bilked hard-working, devout minorities for his own financial gain--must be brought to justice."
Plaintiffs in both cases say they lost either some or all of their life savings after being wrongly schemed by Taylor.
Taylor is most recognized from featured appearances in the national media, including CNN, Forbes, NPR and Fox News. He was also tapped to create and manage a $1 million endowment fund for rapper Snoop Dogg's Youth Football League.
To contact or share story ideas with Danielle Wright, follow and tweet her at @DaniWrightTV.
(Photo: John Amis/Getty Images)