The founder of a prayer website and other businesses will pay back millions of dollars, having "systematically deceived" consumers he enticed to pay for prayers, according to the Washington state attorney general.
As part of a settlement, Benjamin Rogovy, from Seattle, will pay back up to $7.75 million to around 165,000 customers who were victims of his deception across the several businesses he ran, said Attorney General Bob Ferguson on Wednesday.
Rogovy, from Seattle, collected over $7 million dollars from 125,000 consumers through his for-profit company, Christian Prayer Center (CPC) by charging between $9 and $35 for prayers. He attracted customers through creating fake religious leaders and false testimonials.
"I believe in the power of prayer," said Ferguson. "What I do not believe in and what I will not tolerate is unlawful business that prey upon people – taking advantage of their faith or their need for help – in order to make a quick buck."
Rogvy's violated the state Consumer Protection Act and the Charitable Solicitations Act, which forbid businesses making false claims and prohibit churches and charities from using misleading or deceptive statements.
The CPC created a fake religious leader, Pastor John Carlson, claiming that he solely ran the sites.
The site would send weekly inspirational emails under his name, and even created a fake LinkedIn profile, describing him as "Senior Pastor, Christian Prayer Centre, January 2009 – present." They also used the name Pastor Eric Johnston to sign correspondence.
According to the Washington State Attorney General's office, "Neither of these people exist."
The website also had "fictitious testimonials from consumers using stock photos that claimed they successfully prayed to avoid home foreclosure, deliver a healthy baby, win the lottery, obtain negative results of an HIV test and put cancer into remission."
The Christian Prayer Center website, now shut down, displayed a message on Wednesday, linking to other prayer sites it claims not to be affiliated with.
"We thank you for all the prayers, and we cherish the opportunity to have created a place where Christians could meet to support each other," the site said.
Consumers who bought prayer services from CPC between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2015 are able to receive a full refund and are able to file a complaint to the Washington State Attorney General's office until June 11,2016.