Misplaced faith stings evangelists

Denver Post/November 23, 2003
By Al Lewis

If you pledge enough money to Greenwood Village-based Marilyn Hickey Ministries, you will receive a vial of oil.

It's not just any oil. Marilyn and her daughter, Sarah, have prayed over it with two more famous televangelists. There's even a photo of this ritual on the group's website.

"I asked Brother Oral Roberts and his son Richard to join Sarah and me in believing God to place a 'MIRACLE OVERFLOW' anointing into some special anointing oil," Marilyn Hickey explains on her website. "NOW, the first thing we want to get into your hands is a personal quantity of this very special anointing oil."

Running a television, publishing, teaching, preaching and missionary empire is expensive. And sometimes even the creator of the entire universe may seem a little short on cash. Recall that in 1987, Oral Roberts said God would "take me home" if he did not raise $8 million.

Like Roberts, Hickey pursues a relentless campaign for dollars. Two years ago, this quest led her to a man named Gregory Earl Setser, 47, a businessman in Texas who turned out to be quite a fundraiser himself. He claimed he was a former minister and promised miraculous investment returns without risking principal.

Last week, Setser was in federal custody, charged with fraud. He was unavailable for comment.

Hickey, through a spokesman, declined to comment. The ministry issued statements explaining how it invested with Setser, an alleged Ponzi scheme artist who prosecutors say duped several high-profile evangelical ministries and their members out of $160 million.

"During the downturn in the economy, the board was looking for investment opportunities and vehicles with greater return to increase revenues for the work God has given us to do," the group said.

Setser had received high recommendations from Christian leaders, Hickey's ministry said. Other televangelists - including the faith-healing Benny Hinn of Irving, Texas - believed in him, too. Hickey ministries says it spent months investigating Setser, his companies and his claims.

Somehow, Hickey's group did not learn that in 1993 Setser received probation after pleading no contest to charges of theft by check in Texas. Or that he filed for bankruptcy that year after the feds put a tax lien on him. Or that in 1997, his bankruptcy petition was dismissed for failure to make payments. In March 2002, Setser's firm, IPIC Investments, forfeited its status as a Texas domestic corporation for not paying taxes.

Setser claimed to have sold billions of dollars worth of goods to retailers such as Costco, J.C. Penney and Pier 1 Imports. His wife, Cynthia, 47, claimed to be working with President Bush's family on a diamond mine in Congo. Somehow, Hickey's investigators never cut to the heart of Setser's ungodly claims, which federal prosecutors in Dallas now allege are complete fabrications.

Bank statements show that most of Setser's transactions involved buying, not selling - to acquire things like homes, a yacht and a helicopter, prosecutors allege.

Setser and several of his family members were indicted and arrested in Dallas last week. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed a securities-fraud action against them as well.

Hickey's prepared statements make several points: 1) Unlike others, the ministry made a "substantial profit" from its investment. 2) Pastors Wallace and Marilyn Hickey invested personally - no mention as to what was lost or gained. 3) Ministry board members invested, but did not promote the schemes to the congregation. 4) The ministry has played a role in helping prosecutors pursue Setser, and is a victim of his crime.

"We pray that the name of Christ will not be tarnished as a result of this tragic situation," the ministry said.


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