CEO of import-export company convicted in religious scam

Associated Press/June 12, 2006
By Julia Glick

The former top executive of an import-export company was found guilty Monday of cheating hundreds of ministers and churchgoers out of $65 million by promising huge profits for doing God's work.

Greg Setser, who was chief executive of the now-defunct company IPIC International Inc., was convicted of 22 counts, including fraud and conspiracy. He could be sentenced up to life in prison.

The government alleged Setser, 49, and three others in the company duped 1,700 or so investors, using the money for extravagant purchases such as yachts and planes.

Setser's daughter-in-law Charnelle Setser and his business associate Thomas Henschke were acquitted on all charges. Greg Setser's sister Deborah Setser was convicted on six counts, including money laundering and fraud charges, but acquitted on five.

Charnelle Setser, 23, had faced 20 counts of fraud, money laundering and conspiracy. Henschke and Deborah Setser ran side companies.

Don Templin, Greg Setser's attorney, had said his client was no con artist, just a failed businessman. The other defendants didn't know enough to be held responsible, their attorneys argued.

The verdict came after several days of deliberations that began May 24. The federal trial lasted more than 3 1/2 months and brought about 100 witnesses to court, including televangelist Benny Hinn.

Prosecutors had argued that IPIC won over investments and support from prominent Christian leaders like Hinn then persuaded their followers and associates to invest. But the company never did any real business and used investor money on a $2 million yacht, planes, cars and plastic surgery, prosecutors said.

They said the company lasted three years as a huge ponzi scheme, taking in $173 million in investor money, and using much of it to pay off different investors, claiming it was profit.

Templin countered that IPIC, which started in Canton and later moved near Los Angeles, grew too fast and Setser trusted the wrong people.

Attorneys for Charnelle Setser, Deborah Setser and Henschke said their clients were bit players and unaware of any fraud in a scheme that Greg Setser masterminded.

Greg Setser's wife Cynthia Setser and his son Joshua Setser both pleaded guilty to one count of securities fraud at the start of the trial.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission found IPIC liable for investors' losses.

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