Archie Larue Evans – the former pastor of Tilly Swamp Baptist Church here – pleaded guilty Wednesday to two felony charges related to a Ponzi scheme he operated in which church members and others lost $2.5 million, according to court documents filed in federal court.
Evans, 42, pleaded guilty 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.
The guilty plea was part of an agreement in which prosecutors would drop seven additional mail fraud charges and five money laundering charges. Judge Bryan Harwell deferred his decision on whether to accept or reject the terms of the plea agreement during a hearing Wednesday in Florence.
Evans was indicted on the charges in July and initially pleaded not guilty. He remains free on a $25,000 unsecured bond.
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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 lost or spent the money, but prepared false investment statements to make it appear as if the investors 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.
Wednesday’s guilty plea follows 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.”