Edward Purvis, the man who promised churchgoing investors in Arizona and 12 other states he could make them wealthy while funding Christian causes, was indicted Friday on 43 counts of fraud and theft.
Authorities accuse the 40-year-old Chandler man of operating a multimillion Ponzi-scheme through Nakami Chi Group Ministries International. "These are very serious charges," Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said Friday. "Several hundred years (of prison) are in the offing." ARALifestyle.com
The indictment comes on the heels of an $11 million restitution order imposed last month on Purvis and his partner Gregg Wolfe and their wives by the Arizona Corporation Commission, which regulates the sale of securities in the state.
Authorities said that while Purvis promised investors 24 percent annual returns, Purvis was dipping into their money to buy cars and jewelry, to make a down payment on an $800,000 home and to pay gambling debts and other personal expenses.
A Ponzi, or pyramid, scheme is an investment scam that uses money from new investors to pay old investors. Nakami's investors included at least one pastor, church elders and members of Chandler Christian Church and Vineyard Church in Avondale, many of whom continue to defend Purvis and Wolfe.
Purvis and Wolfe told investors that their company was worth $170 billion and it controlled assets around the world, including gold mines, Australian developments, telecom firms, banks and a Phoenix technology company.
An Arizona Republic investigation in 2006 raised questions about the size and holdings of Nakami, which used a Scottsdale post-office box as its company business address.
State records showed Purvis was a licensed practical nurse and Wolfe is a former roofing contractor. Records also show Purvis and Wolfe do not have licenses to be brokers, lenders or bankers.
Goddard said his office takes fraud cases very seriously and compared Purvis to some of the worst offenders for his aggressive style of marketing.
"These people act without conscience and their victims are often the aged who invest on trust rather than knowledge," Goddard said, adding that fraud destroys lives no differently than other crimes.
Neither Purvis nor Wolfe could be reached for comment Friday. Purvis is currently serving an 18-month prison sentence for bribing a Chandler police officer and filing a series of bogus legal claims against public officials in an attempt to thwart the Corporation Commission's investigation.
Purvis and Wolfe filed so-called admiralty claims against two attorneys, a judge in the case and the clerk of Maricopa County Superior Court. They also filed liens and lawsuits against a reporter and a financial adviser who alerted authorities to their scheme.
Admiralty law concerns ships and commerce on navigable waters, but groups with roots in militia movements have used it to suggest that it supersedes the Constitution.
Tony Senarighi of Prescott, who invested $50,000 with Purvis and later got his money back, said the fraud charges are deserved.
"Justice took a long time," he said, "so long as justice prevails."