Federal prosecutors are taking down a group of fake Maryland-based pastors running a $28 million Ponzi scheme that took advantage of African immigrant parishioners.
Dennis Mbongeni Jali, Alrey Ray Johnson and John Erasmus Frimpong all posed as pastors focused on helping African immigrants gain financial prosperity through 1st Million LLC. Jali, who served as the Chief Operating Officer, is currently in South Africa, awaiting extradition to the United States.
Johnson of Bowie, Maryland, was recently sentenced to 6.5 years in federal prison for his participation as 1st Million’s chief financial officer. Another defendant, John Erasmus Frimpong, a Ghanaian national serving as the organization’s chief marketing officer, plead guilty to wire and securities fraud in August 2022 and is scheduled to be sentenced in February of this year.
Hopes of Fortune Are Filled with Fraudulent Activity
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Jali, Johnson and Frimpong operated a Ponzi scheme between 2017 and 2019. Using the pulpit as their platform, the three men reportedly operated 1st Million LLC, Smart Partners LLC and Access2Assets LLC to coax more than 1,000 people throughout the United States, primarily immigrants, to invest their money in foreign currencies and cryptocurrencies. The men promised no risk and profits of more than 100 percent annually. However, the men used the investors’ money to enhance their personal lifestyles.
Jali, who positioned himself as a finance guru, spearheaded the Christian-themed financial success program — which aimed to help African immigrants become financially successful through their devotion to God. Jali, Johnson and Frimpong spread their message and attracted investors at churches, community events and seminars throughout Washington, D.C., and Baltimore.
“I’m everything you imagine me to be, as long as it’s good and it’s Godly,” Jali once told a crowd, according to Marketwatch.
Jali enticed his audiences to invest by persuading them that he could multiply their money by 35 percent through various cryptocurrency and foreign exchange investments.
“I own 28 cars that I bought, all cash. And I’m not talking cheap cars. I’ve never owned a Toyota in my life,” Jali told viewers in a YouTube video.
Federal investigators discovered that Jali and his partners were not pastors and had not made any investments on behalf of their clients. Authorities say the trio used the money to provide themselves with private jet travel, luxury homes, and cars.
When Jali realized he was under investigation by the FBI, he fled to his native country of South Africa. In 2020, he was arrested in South Africa after a criminal indictment was unsealed in the United States. His co-conspirators were arrested in July 2020.
“In a time of such financial insecurity, the defendants allegedly preyed on their victims with false hope of financial security,” said FBI special agent in charge Jennifer Boone. “They used the victims’ hard-earned money for luxury cars, private jets and family vacations while the victims ended up with false promises and empty hopes.”