A Virginia pastor and his wife were found guilty on Monday by a federal court jury of defrauding friends and members of their church out of millions of dollars under the false pretense that they were investing in entrepreneurs in developing countries.
Terry Millender and his wife Brenda Millender, who both ran Victorious Life Church in Alexandria, told parishioners who invested that they would make their money back with profit; however, no investor saw a dime.
Instead, their friends’ money was used to bring in additional investors. The money brought in was ultimately used to make payments on a $1.75 million home in Springfield, Virginia, reported the Washington Post.
During the trial, Terry attempted to argue that he was guilty only of financial mismanagement, not fraud.
He said he acted “stupidly, not criminally — not from my heart.”
He blamed the failure of his companies on the 2008 financial collapse and a banking crisis in Ukraine, among other events he said were unforeseeable.
According to prosecutors, the Millenders were involved in a microlending, although they had no experience. They also did not inform their investors they planned to generate profit though risky currency trading.
At first, the couple’s company, Micro-Enterprise Management Group, lost $1.4 million in microlending money. The couple then started another firm focused on the Nigerian oil industry. However, this company also collapsed, resulting in a loss of over $600,000 in investor’s money. Prosecutors said this money went to pay the couple’s personal expenses, including golf games and rent.
Grenetta Wells, who was chief operating officer of the microlending company, pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy and testified against the Millenders.
Terry Millender was found guilty for all 31 counts of wire fraud, money laundering, false-tax-return filing and obstruction while his wife was only found guilty for seven.
“I’m pleased that the jury’s verdict at least acknowledges a vast difference between Mr. and Mrs. Millender’s respective involvement,” Brenda Millender’s lawyer, Lana Manitta, told The Washington Post. “However, our position is and will remain that Brenda Millender wasn’t involved at any level that triggers criminal culpability.”