Gold, Diamond and Investment "In the Name
By J. Kpanneh Doe and Siahyonkron Nyanseor
August 22, 2001
The Greater Ministries International Church, Greater Diamond Company, Rock Church International, Freedom Gold, Greater Group of Africa, Amalia Gold and Diamond, etc., have become synonymous with scams, unscrupulous investors, hustlers, con artists, hiding under the cloak of religion and posing as investors, doing business in Liberia. These organizations, using clever marketing schemes, religion and bribery, associated with organized crime in America, Europe and the world, have found willing partners in the Taylor regime, that is now combing the Liberian economy, transforming it into a hub for money-laundering, arms-trafficking and drug-smuggling.
These organizations, many of which are religious-based are involved in investment scams passing for legitimate businesses, which have become very lucrative business ventures with international dimensions.
In 1999, federal agents arrested leaders of Greater Ministries International: Gerald Payne, his wife (Betty Payne), John Krishak, Patrick Henry Talbert, Haywood Eudon ``Don'' Hall, David Whitfield and James Chambers. Recently, the Greater Ministries International Church founder, Mr. Gerald Payne, was convicted by a Federal District Court in Tampa, Florida, on fraud and conspiracy and given a 27 year-prison sentence. His wife, Betty Payne, was also given a 12 year sentence. The scam operated by Greater Ministries is said to have swindled $578 million from as many as 18,000 people including elderly across the country under the guise of "divinely-inspired foreign currency, goal, silver and diamond from 1993 to 1999."
According to the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA), a regulatory agency, said schemes targetting religions or spiritual beliefs were responsible for as much as $2 billion in loses over the last three years.
The scheme used by these groups is comparable to a classic pyramid or ponzi scheme, or quite often referred to by marketing gurus as multi-level marketing. Employing the same principles, but using strong religious pitch as a selling point, members or followers are promised that whatever is given will be doubly increased by God's divine blessings. As a reassurance, Greater Ministries and other groups also pitch that their program is "anointed" and cite biblical passages to prove their cause and press their appeal. Citing Luke 6:38, for example: "Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom," they often appeal. But the scheme basically is designed to pay off early investors with money from later investors. However, when the pyramid falters, the latter group looses money.
Casting itself as a "Gifting Ministry," the Greater Ministries pushes its members to tithe or donate a percentage of their income to specific church programs. Through its "Faith Promises Program," members are told that their gift will be blessed "seven times," or that their money will be doubled or bear fruits in "17 months." But while tithing or giving a "love offering" is a common religious practice used for good works, it becomes suspect when a monetary return is promised.
This religious scam has no boundaries; it has spread throughout the United States and a number of other countries. Because of the blurring of the lines between the religious outlook and the business interest of Greater Ministries and others, it has been rather difficult to identify this scam in its early phase. A study conducted in 1989 for example, revealed that investors across the country had lost $450 million in the previous five years. "Ten years later, a single scam in Arizona was found to have taken $600 million." Similar scams have been reported in Alabama, Tennessee, Washington State and many others.
But beyond the United States, the Greater Ministries International Church has also been plagued by scandals through its involvement with Liberia and the Taylor regime.
Three years ago, this magazine investigated the Greater Ministries International Church and reported on how it had used shady business practices in cahoots with key ministers of the Taylor regime to defraud the Liberian government of custom revenues.
Based on documents in the position of this magazine and the investigation conducted at the time, The Perspective wrote in an article entitled: In Taylor's Liberia, Thieves Are Thriving & So Is Corruption:
"According to a recent Memorandum written by Liberia's
Deputy Minister of National Security, Mr. John B. Wonpoe Yormie,
a copy of which was obtained by the Perspective, Taylor's friend
and Minister of Lands, Mines & Energy, Jenkins Dunbar, is
alleged by the Memorandum of having knowingly aided and abetted
the perpetration of defrauding the Government of Liberia [of US
$354,653.00] in custom revenues." Jenkins Dunbar along with
some close colleagues of Taylor's such as Emmanuel Shaw, Cyril
Allen, Grace Minor, Robert Bright and Dan Chea are reportedly
in collusion with alleged suspected international criminal individuals
seemingly involved in shady business deals. Niko Shefer and Felix
Kramer are two South African businessmen with questionable business
history brought into the country by Shaw and Dunbar under the
guise of the Greater Ministries International.
"Initially, the Greater Ministries International went to Liberia supposedly to participate in the provision of relief services for Liberians affected by the country's civil war. While in the country, the Greater Ministries International in concert with high-powered friends like Shaw and Dunbar secured custom and tax import exemptions reserved only for relief organizations to import "donated equipment and supplies " for mineral exploration in Lower Lofa and Sinje in Cape Mount County; two places that form the heart of Liberia's Diamond Country. Though the promised relief supplies for Liberians never arrived, this group boldly took in heavy earth moving equipment and more than 3,000 pieces of shovel in Sinje and started exploring for Diamonds without registering as an official Business in Liberia. Apparently furious over this event, the Ministry of National Security launched its own investigation to determine the motive of this Greater Ministries Group.
"No longer hiding its fraudulent motive, the Director of the Board of Greater Ministries International Rev. James W. List of Tampa, Florida, on May 6, 1998 faxed his friend Minister Dunbar to intervene on their behalf. The Greater Ministries International later changed its name to the Greater Diamond Company, Ltd., even though the purported company pocketed over half a million dollars in duty free imports exemptions reportedly at the request of Minister Dunbar. Over the objection of the Ministry of National Security, Minister Dunbar persuaded the Ministry of Finance to grant Duty Free/Tax exempt status to the Greater Diamond Company (Liberia), LTD up to September 1998, though the Ministry of National Security requested the suspension of the company's activities involving the smuggling of construction equipment and Diamonds in and out of Liberia."
Lo and behold, while the Greater Ministries claimed it was committed to providing relief to the people of war-ravaged Liberia, their real motive was much deeper: swindling the faltering Liberian economy. Two key players in this scheme, Niko Shefer and Felix Kramer, both South Africans nationals, have also been wanted by that country's authorities for their role in the failed and fraudulent Amalia Gold Companies of South Africa as well as the Greater Ministries International Church.
But the marriage between the shady businessmen from South African and their Liberia compatriots did not last for long. Though Shefer and Kramer are known international schemers, they were out maneuvered by Liberian officials as Kramer explained to the Inquirer newspaper of Monrovia: "We have nothing to hide from the media in relation to whatever we are doing or experiencing in Liberia. We are partially withdrawing. This is mainly attributable to the severe difficulties we face with harassment and threats made against us by officials and bureaucrats Because we came to Liberia to assist the poor, disadvantaged and needy people and not to enrich the big shots. Unfortunately, these officials continue to harass and worry us by making compulsory demands on us. And if we fail, we receive verbal or written threats. We have evidence in our possession concerning such threats. The most recent and serious one came from a very senior government official. This was a written fax on an official letterhead. The official in question was demanding a very substantial amount of money from Greater Diamond, stating that if we fail to accede, we may even find ourselves imprisoned It is regrettable that the same lack of sincerity and corruption which brought about the civil strife and caused so much hardship and tragedy to this beautiful country, is still prevalent at many levels of society."
The heavy earth moving equipment of Greater Diamond were confiscated by the Liberian government and some sources in Liberia indicate that they were transferred to the president's farm near Gbarnga.
Even though subjected by the law because of its high profile and visibility, the Greater Ministries is not alone in this scheming adventure. There is other less visible, but more involved groups that are using the cover of religion to engage in unscrupulous business practices in Liberia.
Mr. Tom J. Woewiyu, former Defense Spokesman of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), now Senator of Grand Bassa County, who now considers himself a "reformed rebel" and a "born-again Christian", is a "Deacon" and serves on the Board of Rock Church International. Rock Church links to Freedom Gold, a gold mining concern exploiting gold in Southeastern Liberia - is also reported to have connections to the televangelist, Rev. Pat Robertson's Ministry in Virginia Beach. Recently, Mr. Woewiyu appeared on the 700 Club Television Show, aired on the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), founded by Rev. Robertson.
But as pressure mounts and international criminal syndicates like Greater Ministries exposed, it is clear that the culprits including Mr. Taylor and his gang, will continue to find ways to adapt and refine their strategies to ensure their survival. But while they run, they may not be able to hide for too long.
Click the links before for related articles:
In Taylor's Liberia, Thieves Are Thriving & So Is Corruption
Greater Diamond Reacts To: In Taylor's Liberia, Thieves Ar Thriving And So Is Corruption