Ephren Taylor Accused of $11 Million Christian Ponzi Scheme by SEC


Conway said investors soon started suspecting trouble as well, and panicked families began banging down the doors of the North Carolina office where she and Taylor worked.

"They put locks on the doors," after one particularly angry client stormed in. Taylor started to panic, Conway said, sensing that his house of cards was beginning to tumble.

"You could see him sweating," she said. "You could see him coming in and trying to save the day or the moment that we're in it, but it just looked shady."

As the SEC complaint alleges, "simply, City Capital could not pay its bills."

"Any investor who resisted was subjected to an endless cycle of unreturned phone calls and emails [and] empty promises of imminent action," reads the complaint. "To the extent investors survived this gauntlet to still insist on repayment, any funds they received invariably came from new investor money."

So while Lillian Wells was getting nowhere searching for her money in Georgia, some of her cash may have been going to new investors like Gary and Anita Dorio in Texas.

The Dorios first met Talylor in Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church, and gave Taylor $1.3 million, their life savings and her mother's retirement. And for about a year, they say it seemed like a good deal. At the beginning, Taylor was sending them monthly checks for $11,000.

"He asked us, you know, 'what do you need? Give me a figure.' and he made it happen," said Gary Dorio.

The Dorios say the paperwork Taylor provided was very convincing. They thought they were investing in an inner city laundromat, a juice bar and a gas station.

"We actually got pictures of the businesses that they were operating," said Gary Dorio. "We called, and they answered the phone and they said who they were."

But ultimately, they discovered that many of the businesses they thought they were investing in never even existed. Their lawyer Cathy Lerman said hundreds of investors have told her the same story.

"You will hear from investors, 'I spent $100,000 on a laundry in Kansas.' and then there'll be ten or 15 other people who also spent $100,000 on a laundry in Kansas," she said. "At the end of the day they had nothing to show for it."

In the end, the Dorios did walk away with a rental property in Cleveland, but it came with a catch: A $67,000 bill for back taxes on the property. The head office of the businesses Taylor listed in their documents was nothing more than a post office box inside a UPS store in Tennessee.

Today, the Dorios said they are fighting foreclosure. "Our marriage is definitely-- it's-- it's-- it was a strain," Gary Dorio said. "We've had our moments."

But the couple said they have sought comfort in their faith.

"Don't be overcome by evil-- by evil. But overcome evil with good," said Anita Dorio, quoting a Biblical passage.

While the Dorios said they are still devout Christians, they have left Lakewood Church, the house of famous televangelist Joel Osteen, who, like many other pastors who let Taylor speak at their churches, preaches what's known as the "prosperity" gospel.

Anita Dorio acknowledged that the church was careful not to explicitly endorse Taylor. "Before the seminar began-- a staff member did make the announcement, 'we're not endorsing this person. We're not telling' you to invest with him. We're just here to listen to what he has to say.'"

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