A Toronto pastor and his wife have been charged with fraud after church members and others lost $8.6 million in a phony investment scheme that promised huge returns, police say.
Marlon Hibbert was pastor of the Masonic Church of God between 2006 and 2010, opening the doors to hundreds of people every Sunday.
Police allege Hibbert told the part-time teachers, parents trying to put their kids through school and a stay-at-home mom with a blind autistic son that he was an expert in foreign currency investment and could get large returns for their money with no risk.
Congregation members, friends and family put in a minimum of $10,000, and some gave upwards of $60,000, police said. Investors were given false statements showing they were making a profit when in reality the money was already gone, police said.
"It's very troubling," financial crimes Det. Gail Regan said Friday. "The victims believe in God and the word they (the pastors) say, so they trusted and believed in them."
A number of investors lost almost everything, with at least one losing their home, Regan added.
Regan said at least $4 million of the original $8.6 million hasn't been accounted for.
Police allege much of the money was deposited in an offshore account in Panama.
Hibbert, 49, and his wife Verna, 48, allegedly used investors' money to pay for a large home, fancy cars, gym memberships, education courses and credit card expenses, police said. They operated a number of charities and donated hundreds of thousands to other charities, police said.
Investors eventually complained to the Ontario Securities Commission. Last September, it ordered Hibbert to repay $5.6 million, including $950,000 in penalties and costs.
Adjudicator James Carnwath said that in over three decades of working for commission he's "never encountered a more vile, more heinous fraud."
When the commission halted Hibbert's company, Ashanti Corporate Services Inc., from trading in January 2011, Hibbert and his wife had filed for bankruptcy.
The couple had run several churches and businesses, most recently the Life Centre Word of Faith Ministries which operates out of a rented space at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School near St. Clair Ave. E. and Victoria Park.
The Hibberts and their church's administrative clerk, Lorraine Bahlmann, each face 38 counts of fraud over $5,000.
Police are asking anyone who invested money with Hibbert to contact the police fraud unit.