Intelligencer Journal Lancaster, PA

Copyright 1998 Lancaster Newspapers

Friday, November 6, 1998

NEWS

Greater Ministries officers ordered to sell stock in Florida bank

Thomas L. Flannery

Florida banking regulators have ordered two agents of Greater Ministries International to sell stock the church illegally purchased to gain control of a Florida bank.

The Florida Department of Banking and Finance issued the order Oct. 29 against Carl V. Thomas of Lawrenceville, Ga., and Charles E. Tomlinson of Plant City, Fla., principals in the Thomas Group, for lying to acquire controlling interest in First Western Bank in Broward County.

Banking regulators said Thomas and Tomlinson failed to disclose that their purchase of 102,399 shares, or more than 28 percent, was for the benefit of the Rev. Gerald D. Payne, Greater Ministries' founder and leader, and his wife, Betty, a Greater Ministries officer.

Thomas originally told bank regulators he was not trying to gain control of First Western for a third party. However, he has since admitted in legal filings that he is the "managing director" of the Wisdom Seekers Foundation, which is funded by the ministry.

Banking regulators said Thomas lied to First Western Bank officers, telling them he had state and federal approval to acquire controlling interest in First Western, according to court records.

The Florida action came only weeks before a Commonwealth Court order here barred the Florida-based ministry from soliciting funds anywhere in the state for its Faith Promises program.

Citing various Biblical passages as its foundation, Greater Ministries' Faith Promises program guarantees it will double cash gifts made to Greater Ministries in about 17 months.

Greater Ministries had been targeting several individuals and religious organizations in Lancaster County. The ministry claims to have gold, silver, platinum and diamond mines that generate revenue to pay back investors.

However, prosecutors from the Attorney General's office and the state Securities Commission said the program is a Ponzi scheme on the brink of collapse.

Ponzi, or pyramid, schemes use the most recent donations to pay off older debts. Eventually, the mounting debt exceeds the amount of new money coming in and the pyramid collapses.

The Pennsylvania action came after Greater Ministries representatives refused to honor two cease-and-desist orders issued by the Securities Commission prohibiting the solicitation of Faith Promises until the ministry complied with state securities laws.

The program also is banned in Ohio and California and is the target of a federal probe.

The temporary injunction granted Monday sets the stage for another court hearing to determine if the church will be banned from raising funds in the state.

Greater Ministries currently is required to turn over all of its financial records to the attorney general's Bureau of Consumer Protection and the state Securities Commission so regulators can determine if the ministry's claims are true.

Gaining control of First Western would be a boost for Greater Ministries because the ministry's Colorado bank, BestBank, was shut down in July by state regulators.