*Terry Wayne Millender, senior pastor of Victorious Life Church in Alexandria, Va., and his wife were indicted by a grand jury on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money-laundering conspiracy. The pastor, his wife and their friend are all being accused of defrauding their congregation out of more than $1 million, Fox5DC reports.
According to the report, charges for Terry, 52, his wife Brenda Millender, 56, and Grenetta Wells, who is affiliated with the church, were unsealed Monday after Wells was arrested, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Charges stem from a company the trio operated called Micro-Enterprise Management Group (MEMG), which allegedly helped poor people in developing countries through the provision of small, short-term loans to start or build up existing businesses by working with a network of established microfinance groups, per Fox5DC. The company was a scam, which they used to convince congregations to invest in their company.
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Authorities say that the trio underlined their business’ Christian mission and promised guaranteed rates of return. Some investors gave sums ranging from $40,000 to $400,000. However, instead of using the money for its intended mission, the Millenders and Wells invested in risky trading on the foreign-exchange market and also helped fund the Millenders lavish lifestyle. When parishioners began to question when they would get their money back, the defendants blamed delays on the 2008 financial crisis, authorities say.
“It didn’t really come as a shock—it was more of a sigh of relief,” Eric Brown, a former church member told Fox5DC. According to the news station, Brown’s family was one of those who invested in the alleged fraud scheme, although they are not a part of the federal case.
“I asked him like, ‘Hey, that’s a nice car,’” Brown told the station regarding one conversation he said he had with Terry Millender. “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.”
Terry and Grenetta were held without bond until another hearing set for Wednesday. Brenda Millender was released after the initial hearing. Each defendant faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, if convicted.