Baptist Group Execs Sentenced for Fraud

Associated Press/September 29, 2006
By Chis Kahn

Phoenix -- Two former executives with the Baptist Foundation of Arizona were sentenced to prison Friday and ordered to repay hundreds of millions of dollars for defrauding investors in a botched financial scheme that bankrupted the non-profit organization.

Former foundation president William Crotts, 61, was sentenced to eight years in prison and former general counsel Thomas Grabinski, 46, was sentenced to six years in prison on fraud and racketeering charges. They were convicted earlier this summer.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Fields also ordered them to repay $159 million apiece.

The foundation, created in 1948 as a nonprofit religious entity to raise money for Southern Baptist causes, collapsed in 1999 in what was then the largest nonprofit bankruptcy filing in U.S. history. About 11,000 mostly elderly investors lost almost $600 million as a result.

"They took from these people their very lives," Arizona Assistant Attorney General Don Conrad said. "We're not just talking about money here."

The sentencing came at the end of a two-day hearing where many former investors pleaded with Fields to show leniency when he handed down his sentence.

"You will never, ever convince me that Bill Crotts or Tom Grabinski got out of bed and said 'Let's figure out a way to take away people's wealth,'" said Byron Banta, 71, a retired pastor at Corona Baptist Church in Chandler. "That was never their intention."

Both men sat quietly throughout the hearing in striped jailhouse uniforms, pink handcuffs and leg irons.

Outside the courthouse, 67-year-old Betty Campbell said she didn't expect to see a penny of the $700,000 she lost as a Baptist Foundation of Arizona investor.

"They're broke," said Campbell of Topock, Ariz. "I just wish way back when we started having (financial) troubles that they'd have been honest with us."

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.