Bishop Eddie Long has been sued by former New Birth Missionary Baptist members who say the megachurch pastor encouraged them to invest money with a company despite being told the investor was running a $3 million capital deficit.
The suit, filed late last month in DeKalb County state court, alleges Long's assistant had been warned by an unidentified caller that Ephren W. Taylor was not to be trusted nearly two weeks before the self-professed "social capitalist" held a series of financial seminars in October 2009 at the Lithonia church.
New Birth, Long and Taylor are all named in the suit filed by 12 former church members who say they lost more than $1 million dollars in the alleged Ponzi scheme.
"If Bishop Eddie Long hadn't endorsed this they wouldn't have invested," plaintiffs attorney Jason Doss said.
According to the lawsuit, Long did not invest himself, but urged his parishioners to invest with Taylor, who he introduced as his "friend (and) brother" prior to his pitch before the church.
Church spokesman Art Franklin said in a statement that Long "remain(s) hopeful that Ephren Taylor and companies related to him restore the funds that were taken from congregants at New Birth and churches around the county. We continue to cooperate as the case proceeds."
The statement does not address the warning about Taylor, uncovered during the discovery process. The church turned over an internal memo detailing the call to Long's assistant, who was told by the unidentified informer he "did not want the church to be taken advantage of."
Taylor, the caller said, will issue promissory notes to the congregation which gives him legal authorization to do as he pleases. "There will be no return on investment," the memo stated.
The former church members allege that's just what happened. Taylor, they say, issued a promissory note informing them he was investing their money in real estate, guaranteeing a 20 percent return.
"That was my everything, and that's it, it's gone," plaintiff Lillian Wells told Channel 2 Action News. Wells said she invested $122,000 with Taylor, who claimed to be a self-made millionaire by the time he turned 16.
The Securities and Exchange Commission has a civil case pending against Taylor, who's alleged to have targeted more than 1,000 investors, mostly church members. He's accused of diverting hundreds of thousands of dollars for personal expenses and to fund his wife's singing career.
"These are good, Christian, hard-working people who saved their whole lives, " said attorney Cathy Lerman, who represents the plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit.
Taylor has never been criminally charged.
The suit filed in DeKalb state court marks the second time in three years Long has been sued by former members. In May 2011, he reached a settlement with four young men who had alleged sexual coercion. Financial terms were not disclosed.