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


Conway said she started to think that the money coming in was lining Taylor's pockets, and according to government officials, she was right. The SEC claimed Taylor spent his investors' money on his car payments, credit card bills and rent on a New York City apartment.

The SEC also alleged that he doled out cash to pay for studio time for the musical career of his wife, Meshelle, with the money that came pouring in. The couple even made a splashy music video starring Meshelle Taylor draped in white fur and diamonds. The name of the song? "Billionaire."

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."

In April 2012, ABC News heard from an attorney representing Taylor, who said that Taylor is not in hiding, but has stayed out of the spotlight because of concerns for his safety. He continued that Taylor also unequivocally denies that he looted investor proceeds to fund an extravagant lifestyle.

In Texas, Gary and Anita Dorio first met Taylor 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 said 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. Lawyer Cathy Lerman said hundreds of investors have told her the same story.

"I cannot tell you how many people have said to me, I thought I was the only one. And my family was so angry with me. I took our life savings and ruined it," she said.

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.

"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.

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