A month before he stands trial on fraud charges, the owner of a Christian non-profit accused of bilking millions out of churchgoers in Arizona and 12 other states is now seeking an expert's endorsement to promote a gold-mine project to investors.
A university professor and metallurgist from Montana says two weeks ago Chandler resident Ed Purvis offered to hire him to analyze gold ore that Purvis claimed he and others recovered from a South Pacific island.
"It was obvious that they wanted to use me so they could go after investors," said Paul Miranda, a chemist and process engineer at Montana Tech University of the University of Montana. "The whole thing smelled bad from the start. I asked questions about extraction methods. . . . They hemmed and hawed. They didn't know what they were talking about."
Miranda said he met with Purvis and two of Purvis' partners on April 27 at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas.
Court records show that Purvis' trip to Las Vegas could be a violation of his bail bond, which requires him to obtain court approval to leave the state. Last month, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Hannah granted Purvis permission to travel to Wisconsin from April 12 to 28. There is no mention of Las Vegas in the records.
Purvis, 41, did not return phone calls this week.
He is scheduled to stand trial June 14 in Superior Court on 43 counts of criminal fraud and theft charges related to his non-profit company Nakami Chi Group Ministries International, which authorities describe as a Ponzi scheme.
They say Purvis promised investors their money would be used to fund Christian causes and that they would earn 24 percent annual returns.
One of Nakami's key investment plans involved gold ore from an abandoned manganese mine on the island nation of Vanuatu, about 1,300 miles northwest of New Zealand.
According to Miranda, Purvis said the manganese, a mineral used to prevent corrosion of steel, was being shipped to the United States where the gold was being extracted.
"They said they were getting 65 ounces of gold per ton. They said they had trillions of tons of it," Miranda said, adding that just 1 ounce of gold per ton would make it highly profitable. "If that were the case, every gold-mine industry in the country would be buying it up. There would be a bidding war."
However, a New Zealand mine company owner told The Republic that the ore from the Vanuatu mine is worthless.
Dave Beatson of Auckland said he flew to Vanuatu last year after a friend in California invested as much as $600,000 in Nakami.
Beatson said he and a geologist collected ore samples from various sites at the mine and had it tested by an independent company in New Zealand.
"It's a crock, mate," said Beatson, president of Murihiku River Prospecting Ltd. "There was a small trace of gold, 0.0002 percent. Tests showed (the ore) was high-grade manganese, but it would be more expensive to ship it to the United States than it is worth."
Beatson described the ore site as a dismal outpost at the end of a long, mostly unpaved road, overseen by a desultory security guard in a crumbling shack. He said they spent several hours at the site, documenting it and the collection process with videos and photographs.
"I've been chasing these guys and their mine claims for years," Beatson said. "So I finally just got on a plane and went to where they said it was."
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 told investors the project in Vanuatu was worth $120 billion, which I knew was untrue," Wolfe said in a court affidavit. "No operating mine exists there today."
Wolfe said the Vanuatu ore is owned by a Swiss company called International Project Management, of which Purvis has an interest. He said Purvis arranged for investor money to be directed first to an offshore bank and then to IPM.
Miranda, who said he had not previously met Purvis, described him as confident and generous, offering to pay for his stay at the four-star hotel and other amenities. He said Purvis and his two partners wanted to provide him with samples of the ore, but he declined to take it or any of Purvis' other offers.
Miranda said when he returned from Las Vegas, he researched Purvis, discovered the cases and contacted authorities.
Officials with the Arizona Attorney General's Office, which is prosecuting Purvis on the fraud charges, declined comment.
Purvis, with his former partner and their wives, were ordered 2 years ago by a civil-court judge to pay $11 million to investors defrauded through Nakami.
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 Arizona 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 raised questions about Nakami in a series of articles in 2006.
Records show he was released from prison in June.