Former Conway pastor wants to rescind guilty plea in church-based Ponzi scheme
02/15/2013 1:53 PM
02/16/2013 10:23 AM
Archie Evans – the Baptist preacher who admitted last month to mail fraud related to a Ponzi scheme in which church members lost $2.5 million – wants to renege on his plea agreement, saying he was pressured by his lawyer to make a deal with prosecutors that he didn’t fully understand.
In a Feb. 6 letter to federal court, Evans stated that he wants to “reject the plea that was improperly conceived on Jan. 7 and forcefully birthed on Jan. 9, and to strike it from the records.” Evans also asked that lawyer Scott Bellamy be replaced with a public defender, saying the representation he received from Bellamy “proved to be vastly inadequate at its best and misleading at its worst.”
Magistrate Judge Thomas Rogers appointed a public defender for Evans – the former pastor of Tilly Swamp Baptist Church – but did not vacate the guilty plea during a hearing Thursday in federal court in Florence.
Bellamy could not be reached for comment Friday. Evans declined to discuss his letter to the court when contacted by The Sun News.
“You have demonized me already and I’m not going to answer any more questions,” Evans said.
In his letter to court officials, Evans said Bellamy had spent no time working on his case when plea negotiations took place on Jan. 7. Evans said his lawyer “failed to accurately explain and define all of the elements in multiple legal papers” that he was compelled to sign. Evans said he did not understand the “counts, inferences, and legal jargon” contained in the plea agreement he signed and that Bellamy did not explain the sentencing scenarios he might face.
“Throughout the process, Bellamy seemed to be only an extended arm of the prosecution, leaving Evans in a constitutionally unjust, defenseless position,” Evans wrote.
Evans pleaded guilty on Jan. 9 to one charge of mail fraud and one charge of structuring financial transactions to evade the reporting requirements banks must follow for deposits exceeding $10,000. The charges carry a combined maximum sentence of 25 years in prison and $500,000 in fines.
Evans wrote that prosecutors proposed a harsh prison sentence so he would be compelled to testify against others in exchange for lenience.
“The prosecutor secretly told Bellamy that this was the reason the feds would not lower it any more – they were scared that if they gave Evans a fairer sentence that he would not testify, and they could never allow that to even be a possibility,” Evans wrote. “The fed’s primary driver of crucifying Evans, a so-called ‘little fish,’ has been from day one all about catching what they call ‘big fish’ elsewhere, and has had little to nothing to do with the facts of Evans’ case or the welfare of his business partners.”
Evans did not state who the “big fish” were that prosecutors were targeting.
In exchange for the guilty plea, prosecutors dropped seven additional mail fraud charges and five money laundering charges against Evans.
Evans was indicted on the charges in July and initially pleaded not guilty. He remains free on $25,000 unsecured bond.
In the indictment, prosecutors said Evans convinced church members to invest in his company, Gold & Silver LLC, with the promise that investors would receive quarterly interest payments of between 10 percent and 12 percent. Evans either spent the money or lost it on bad investments, but prepared false investment statements to make it appear as if church members were earning a high rate of interest on their money.
The false statements also were used to encourage others to invest in the scheme, according to the indictment, and Evans used money from the new investors to make interest payments to the previous investors. Evans also used the new investors’ money for his own personal expenses, court documents show.
The scheme started in 2004, according to the indictment, and Evans had spent all of the money invested with him by October 2011. At the time of his indictment, court records show, federal agents seized just $1,919.86 that was left in Evans’ bank accounts.
The guilty plea followed Evans’ default in a related civil lawsuit filed last year. Wilbur McLamb alleged in that lawsuit that he made three loans totaling $1.45 million to Evans and his wife, Crystal, plus Gold & Silver LLC between August 2009 and February 2011. Evans made interest payments on the three loans until September 2011, when he defaulted on the notes. McLamb says Evans now owes more than $1.7 million, including interest and attorney’s fees.
In addition to his work as a pastor, Evans in 2008 formed a pair of nonprofit agencies called Pale Productions and Pale Ministries, according to S.C. Secretary of State records. Evans, through Pale Productions, published the book “Nature’s Pairs: The Demise of Homosexuality,” in which he purported to outline “nature’s indisputable evidence against homosexuality.”
Evans told court officials in his letter that he “is continually working to produce Christian books as a means of restitution for his partners,” but his efforts have been thwarted because “the feds are continually working to paint Evans as a madman, thereby destroying all hopes of restitution.”
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