Three pastors accused of $8.6-million fraud
May 3, 2013
By Chris Doucette, QMI Agency
Verna Michelle Hibbert, Marlon Gary Hibbert and Lorraine Bahlmann all face charges in the $8.6-million fraud case. (Toronto Police handout)
TORONTO — Three pastors face 114 charges combined for allegedly swindling their flock out of millions of dollars.
Police allege the trio — a man, his wife and another woman — convinced more than 200 members of their congregation, as well as their family and friends, to hand over $8.6 million for a phony investment scheme with promises of a huge return.
The scam cost some investors their life savings and some even lost their homes, police said.
Marlon Gary Hibbert, 49, and his wife Verna Michelle Hibbert, 48, were arrested Thursday and are each charged with 38 counts of fraud over $5,000.
Lorraine Bahlmann, 47, who worked as the couple's administrative clerk, was arrested Friday and charged with 38 counts of fraud over $5,000 as well.
All three were pastors at the Masonic Church of God when the alleged frauds occurred between 2005 and 2010.
Det. Gail Regan said members of the congregation were told Marlon Hibbert was "a successful trader in foreign currencies."
Regan said those who invested — the minimum was $10,000 — were promised "a high rate of return" on their money. She said investors were guaranteed 5% compounded monthly, or 8.5% if they locked in for a year.
The Ontario Securities Commission received complaints in 2009.
Regan said the Hibberts were living a "luxurious lifestyle" and some of the money was funnelled to Panama.
The OSC ordered a forensic audit that determined more than 200 people were scammed out of $8.6 million and about $4 million is still unaccounted for, Regan said.
So far, police have identified 38 victims who lost a total of $2.1 million, Regan said, adding many of the investors have yet to come forward.
No money has been recovered.
Were you one of the victims in this case? If so, we want to hear from you. Contact the Toronto Sun city desk at 416-947-2211 or e-mail us at [email protected]
Pastor charged after congregation members allegedly bilked out of $8.6 million
A pastor and his wife have been charged with fraud after church members and others lost $8.6 million in a phony investment scheme that promised huge returns, police say.
Fri May 03 2013
Pastor Marlon Gary Hibbert, 49, and his wife Verna Michelle Hibbert, 48, face 38 fraud charges. TORONTO POLICE
By Andrew Livingstone, News reporter
A Toronto pastor and his wife have been charged with fraud after church members and others lost $8.6 million in a phony investment scheme that promised huge returns, police say.
Marlon Hibbert was pastor of the Masonic Church of God between 2006 and 2010, opening the doors to hundreds of people every Sunday.
Police allege Hibbert told the part-time teachers, parents trying to put their kids through school and a stay-at-home mom with a blind autistic son that he was an expert in foreign currency investment and could get large returns for their money with no risk.
Congregation members, friends and family put in a minimum of $10,000, and some gave upwards of $60,000, police said. Investors were given false statements showing they were making a profit when in reality the money was already gone, police said.
“It’s very troubling,” financial crimes Det. Gail Regan said Friday. “The victims believe in God and the word they (the pastors) say, so they trusted and believed in them.”
A number of investors lost almost everything, with at least one losing their home, Regan added.
Regan said at least $4 million of the original $8.6 million hasn’t been accounted for.
Police allege much of the money was deposited in an offshore account in Panama.
Hibbert, 49, and his wife Verna, 48, allegedly used investors’ money to pay for a large home, fancy cars, gym memberships, education courses and credit card expenses, police said. They operated a number of charities and donated hundreds of thousands to other charities, police said.
Investors eventually complained to the Ontario Securities Commission. Last September, it ordered Hibbert to repay $5.6 million, including $950,000 in penalties and costs.
Adjudicator James Carnwath said that in over three decades of working for commission he’s “never encountered a more vile, more heinous fraud.”
When the commission halted Hibbert’s company, Ashanti Corporate Services Inc., from trading in January 2011, Hibbert and his wife had filed for bankruptcy.
The couple had run several churches and businesses, most recently the Life Centre Word of Faith Ministries which operates out of a rented space at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School near St. Clair Ave. E. and Victoria Park.
The Hibberts and their church’s administrative clerk, Lorraine Bahlmann, each face 38 counts of fraud over $5,000.
Police are asking anyone who invested money with Hibbert to contact the police fraud unit.
Did you lose your money in Hibbert’s investment scheme? We’d like to hear from you. Contact Andrew Livingstone at 416-945-8721, or [email protected]
Toronto pastor, wife charged in alleged $8.6-million Ponzi scheme
Friday, May. 03 2013
A Toronto pastor and his wife are facing 38 counts of fraud after Toronto police alleged they defrauded members of their congregation out of $8.6-million in a Ponzi scheme, leaving some victims devastated by their financial losses.
Marlon Gary Hibbert, 49, and Verna Hibbert, 48, are accused of running an investment fraud which required parishioners to invest a minimum of $10,000 on the promise Mr. Hibbert would earn them monthly returns of up to 8.5 per cent through foreign exchange trading.
Instead, police allege he made no money on the trading scheme, and instead used funds from later investors to pay investment “returns” to earlier investors.
Police allege “large portions” of victims’ money was shifted to an offshore account in Panama, saying $4-million has not been accounted for. Police allege some of the funds were also used by the Hibberts for personal purposes and some money was used to pay earlier investors. No money has been recovered for investors.
Toronto police Det. Gail Regan of the financial crimes unit said forensic audits show about 200 people were defrauded of a total of $8.6-million, but only 38 have so far come to police with losses of $2.1-million. Police are asking other victims to come forward.
Det. Regan said Mr. Hibbert lived a “luxurious lifestyle,” and had fancy cars and a large house in Toronto’s east end, while his victims were devastated by their losses. Some used their retirement money to invest, and some have lost their homes.
“They are distraught,” Det. Regan said Friday. “They are hurt. They still can’t believe someone like him could have done this to them. They are quite happy [the Hibberts] have been arrested, but for some of them this was their life savings that they have taken out of the bank or their RRSP for retirement.”
Police also charged Lorraine Bahlmann, 47, with fraud, alleging she was an administrative clerk responsible for mailing or e-mailing inaccurate account statements to victims showing they were earning healthy returns on their investments while they were in reality facing large losses.
Det. Regan said the Hibberts and Ms. Bahlmann are all pastors. The alleged fraud occurred between 2005 and 2010 while Mr. Hibbert was running a congregation called the Masonic Church of God in Toronto’s east end.
After members of the congregation began complaining about their investments, that church was disbanded and the Hibberts formed a new church called the Life Centre Word of Faith Ministries, which is still operating in a rented space in a school near the intersection of Victoria Park Ave. and St. Clair Ave. in Toronto.
Det. Regan said she has not heard of any allegations of fraud involving the new congregation.
She said the police are still investigating and “further arrests and charges are anticipated.”
The charges come over two years after the Ontario Securities Commission filed allegations against Mr. Hibbert in the same matter, alleging he committed fraud and improperly distributed securities without being registered to do so while operating a church identified by the OSC as the Dominion World Outreach Ministries. Mr. Hibbert did not appear or defend himself at an OSC hearing in late 2011, and a hearing panel ruled in April, 2012, that he committed fraud.
In a sentencing decision in the case, OSC commissioner James Carnwath said the case was one of the worst frauds he has ever seen.
“In 32 years of adjudication, I have never encountered a more vile, more heinous fraud than that perpetrated by Hibbert on his unsuspecting parishioners,” Mr. Carnwath wrote in his decision.
One of the victims who testified in the OSC case was a stay-at-home mother with two blind children, who said she and her husband lost $60,000 that they had received from her mother-in-law’s estate. At the hearing, the unidentified woman was asked about the impact on her family and replied, “This is where I cry.”
“She described her desire to establish security for her oldest son who would probably never work,” the ruling says. “[She] said she wanted to put an end to Hibbert living off other people’s money.”
The OSC ordered Mr. Hibbert to pay $4.67-million in restitution to investors and fined him a further $750,000. The OSC web site shows none of the money has been paid.
The commission alleged Mr. Hibbert took $673,000 of investor funds for himself and spent it on credit card bills, school fees, hotels, gym memberships, and donations to charities.
Mr. Hibbert was prominent in Toronto’s black community and many of his victims met him through those connections. He was a founder of the Fight for Justice organization, which advocates on behalf of the African-Canadian community in the city.
Pastor, wife charged with defrauding church members
May 3, 2013
An Ontario church pastor and his wife are accused of defrauding their congregationPastors accused of fraud. Play Video
A Toronto church pastor and his wife have been charged with bilking millions from members of their church using a pyramid-style investment scam that allegedly cost some investors their homes.
Police filed 38 charges of fraud over $5,000 Friday against both Verna, 48, and Marlon Hibbert, 49, who operated the Masonic Church of God.
The criminal charges follow an Ontario Securities Commission probe last year that found the couple had taken more than $8.6 million from investors, much of it unaccounted for.
The criminal charges stem from complaints from 38 people representing more than $2 million in losses. Police allege there were more than 200 victims in total, and are asking anyone who invested with the Hibberts to come forward. The alleged frauds took place between 2005 and 2010.
Police said investors signed over large sums of money to Marlon Hibbert, who claimed to be a successful trader of foreign currencies. They were promised returns as high as 8˝ per cent.
Investors were shown account statements, police said, that purported to show a return on their investments. Some early investors were paid a dividend.
However, much of the money was moved to accounts in Panama, according to police. Det. Gail Regan said the Hibberts were living a lavish lifestyle of "fancy cars, big homes."
Investors lost savings, homes
Regan said many of the investors lost homes and their retirement savings in the alleged fraud.
“They are distraught, they are hurt," said Regan. "They still can’t believe someone like this has done this to them. They were hoping that this interest rate that he promised was going to be true."
Lorraine Bahlmann who worked as an assistant for the Hibberts has also been charged.
Regan said the Hibberts continue to operate a church out of a rented space in Toronto under the name The Life Centre Word of Faith Ministries, but said there have been no complaints related to that church.
Toronto pastors defrauded congregation of at least $9-million in ‘Ponzi scheme,’ police say
Alexandra Bosanac .
Verna Michelle Hibbert, 48; Marlon Gary Hibbert, 49, and Lorraine Bahlmann, 47, are charged in the fraud investigation. Toronto Police / Handout
Criminal charges have been brought against three Toronto pastors for allegedly swindling millions from parishioners to fund a luxurious lifestyle.
Police charged Marlon Gary Hibbert, 49, who operates an independent ministry near St. Clair Ave. E. and Victoria Park with 38 counts of fraud over $5,000. Also charged is his wife, Verna Hibbert, 48, and 47-year-old Lorraine Bahlmann, who police said assisted the couple in carrying out the fraud.
According to police, between 2005 and 2010, Mr. Hibbert told parishioners he was as an expert foreign currency trader, promising his unsuspecting victims large returns in exchange for their money and successfully soliciting nearly $9-million from over 200 people in the form of investment contracts and loans.
The money obtained paid for fast cars and fancy homes with the remainder funneled into the couple’s holdings in Panama, according to police.
Det. Gail Reagan called it a textbook Ponzi scheme: for a short time, investors received money from the non-existent account. But soon bogus monthly statements replaced the cheques, prompting multiple investors to report the Hibberts to the Ontario Securities Commission.
The Commission moved to permanently ban Marlon Hibbert from the securities industry last spring after its investigation concluded that the Hibberts acted as advisors without registration and engaged in an illegal distribution of securities at the expense of their investors.
“In 32 years of adjudication I have never encountered a more vile, more heinous fraud than that perpetrated by Hibbert on his unsuspecting parishioners,” OSC commissioner James Carnwath said at the time, adding that Mr. Hibbert’s actions demonstrated a clear desire to “substantially improve the financial position of himself and his family.”
In June, an Ontario Superior Court judge ordered the Hibberts to pay back the invested money at 5% interest, in addition to the complainants’ legal fees, estimated at around $100,000. Police said Friday that $4-million remains outstanding.
At his trial last April, the court learned that many of the duped investors were of meager means to begin with. Some cared for severely disabled children, some lost their homes in the process and other blindly dumped their life savings into the fund.
“They are distraught, they are hurt, they still can’t believe that someone like this could have done this to them,” said Det. Reagan.
Calls to the Hibberts’ church, The Life Centre Word of Faith Ministries, went unanswered. A woman’s voice on the answering machines continues to advertise an 11 a.m. Sunday service.
The Hibberts established a number of small churches and organizations across the city. A quick web search reveals a long Internet trail for Marlon Hibbert’s various endeavors, including websites for apparently defunct ministries and non-profit organizations and Dominion Outreach Ministries and Fight for Justice, an organization that claims to be devoted to bettering the lives of the African-Canadian community.
With files from The Canadian Press, Adrian Humphreys and Barbara Shechter