Chandler fraud suspect jailed after trip to pitch deal

Edward Purvis accused of global web of deceit

The Arizona Republic/September 11, 2010

Edward Purvis, owner of a Christian non-profit that lured investors with promises to fund religious work while delivering 24 percent annual returns, was awaiting trial on fraud charges last month when a judge took the unusual step of having him arrested.

It was the latest twist in a convoluted case that involves a five-year fraud investigation, the bribery of a Chandler police officer, harassment of public officials and bogus lawsuits.

The Aug. 6 arrest was triggered by a story in The Arizona Republic that documented a trip Purvis took in April to Las Vegas to promote a gold-mine project to potential investors. At the time, Purvis was on probation after spending about a year in prison on charges related to impeding the fraud inquiry. He told the court that he was traveling to Wisconsin.

An ensuing investigation by the Probation Department concluded that Purvis had been associating with a known felon, was engaged in a new investment scheme and had failed to maintain legitimate employment. All are violations of the terms of his release from prison.

But state prosecutors said that is just the beginning of their case against Purvis. At an Aug. 24 hearing, they argued that he needed to remain locked up not only because there is a risk he will flee prosecution but because of the risk he poses to people still willing to give him money.

In court, prosecutors offered a glimpse into the case they are building and recent evidence secured from a Caribbean bank, including checks and other financial documents that connect Purvis and his wife to Caribbean, Swiss, Chinese and Australian corporations.

"The state has tipped its hand," Assistant Arizona Attorney General Michael Flynn said in court. "We suspect that there are millions of more dollars out there, and we believe that (Purvis) has access to this money."

Purvis' attorney, Howard Snader, called the state's case speculative. He questioned if any direct evidence ties Purvis to ongoing criminal activity and suggested that the case was built on incomplete records and questionable witnesses.

Robert Eckert, chief investigator for the Arizona Corporation Commission, said in court that he has been investigating Purvis for five years. He detailed his latest findings, which revolve around a corporation called Arleigh International Ltd. on the Caribbean island of Nevis and its bank in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

"This off-shore entity now serves as a conduit for (Purvis) and others to move monies taken in their fraud schemes around the globe," prosecutors wrote in court documents.

According to Eckert, Purvis' wife, Maureen, is the only authorized signer on the Arleigh International account, which has been used to pay her $5,000 a month since it was opened in 2008. Money is also being sent to other banks and financial entities around the world.

Records show that another person involved in Arleigh is James Beall, a longtime Purvis associate who was convicted of bank fraud in Florida in the 1990s and served several years in federal prison.

A flow chart tracking the movement of money in and out of Arleigh shows a spider web of transactions involving companies in Switzerland, the United States, China, Australia and elsewhere.

According to prosecutors, two of the most significant transfers went to Vanuatu Project Limited and a company called California Ore Processing, both of which involve a purported gold mine in the South Pacific.

The Republic detailed the Vanuatu gold mine in earlier stories that raised questions about Purvis' non-profit, Nakami Chi Group Ministries International.

One of Nakami's key investment plans involved gold ore from an abandoned manganese mine on Vanuatu, about 1,300 miles northwest of New Zealand. Purvis told investors that the ore was worth $120 billion, according to witnesses.

However, a New Zealand mine-company owner told The Republic that the ore is worthless. Dave Beatson of Auckland said he and a geologist flew to Vanuatu last year, collected samples of the ore and hired an independent company to test it.

In April, a university professor and metallurgist from Montana said Purvis met with him in Las Vegas and offered to hire him to analyze the Vanuatu ore, which the professor suspected was an investment scam.

Former Nakami co-owner Gregg Wolfe, who has turned state's evidence and has agreed to testify against Purvis, said in court documents that the Vanuatu claims were false.

Purvis, Wolfe and their wives were ordered by a civil-court judge in 2008 to pay $11 million to investors defrauded through Nakami, including members of Chandler Christian Church and Vineyard Church in Avondale.

In 2008, Purvis was also sentenced to 18 months in prison and three years of probation for bribing a Chandler police officer and for filing a series of bogus legal claims against public officials in an attempt to derail a fraud investigation by the Corporation Commission. The commission regulates the sale of securities in Arizona.

Purvis also filed similar legal claims against a Colorado financial adviser and an Arizona Republic reporter who wrote about Nakami in a series of articles in 2006.

Despite the court findings and his conviction, Purvis continues to be supported by several church members, who say the charges against him are overblown and that he has done nothing wrong. They say Purvis' company delivered on its financial promises and would have continued doing so if the media and authorities had left him alone.

Judge John Hannah of Maricopa County Superior Court said last month that it was clear Purvis committed a felony by violating the terms of his probation.

Purvis now faces up to two years in prison when Hannah sentences him on Sept. 24.

Purvis is scheduled to stand trial later this year on 43 counts of criminal fraud and theft charges related to Nakami. If convicted, he could be sentenced to more than 100 years in prison.

Maureen Purvis, who has not been charged criminally, sat stoically in court as her husband was led away. Afterward, on the steps of the courthouse, she and other supporters gathered in a prayer circle. Eyes closed and speaking quietly, they asked for God's help.

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