A pastor and his wife have been arrested after being charged in an alleged $1.2 million (£0.98m) fraud scheme that targeted their congregation with claims that donations would go towards the world's poor.
Terry Wayne Millender, 52, and his wife Brenda Millender, 56, the founders of the Victorious Life Church in Alexandria, were arrested on Sunday.
They ran a company called Micro-Enterprise Management Group that claimed to help poor people in developing countries by providing small, short-term loans for businesses, the US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia said in a statement.
Prosecutors said that between 2008 and 2015, the Millenders recruited investors by outlining their company's Christian mission.
Instead, they used the funds they raised for risky trading in foreign currency markets and for the purchase of a $1.8m (£1.47m) home, prosecutors said. They said the defendants also blamed the 2008 international financial crash for delays in paying back their investors.
The Millenders, and another member of Victorious Life Church accused of being involved in the fraudulent business, 52-year-old Grenetta Wells of Alexandria, were indicted on 20 October, prosecutors said. Wells served as chief operating officer of the company and was arrested yesterday.
They face charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy that could bring up to 20 years in prison, according to prosecutors.
Fox 5 News reported that donations were made in the tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars. It quoted one member of the church, Eric Brown, who invested "thousands" into the business, as saying: "It didn't really come as a shock – it was more of a sigh of relief..."I asked him like, 'Hey, that's a nice car.' He said, 'Yeah, $100,000 car. If you save up your money, God's going to bless you.' Come to find out now, it was actually part of our money."