Several members of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia have filed suit against Bishop Eddie Long, alleging he is responsible for them losing nearly $1 million in a fraudulent investment scheme.
According to the lawsuit, in 2009 Long sponsored a series of investment seminars at the church titled “The Wealth Tour Live,” which took place Oct. 17-23.
The suit alleges that Long used his position at the church to “coerce those in attendance” to trust Ephren Taylor, then CEO of the City Capitol Corp. Taylor, who was in his early 20s at the time, was presented by Long as a “self-made millionaire,” and an ordained minister.
“I am responsible for everyone I bring before you and what they say,” Long said, according to the suit. “The gentleman that I am going to bring before you is an ordained minister. That gives me great pride to bring him for you.”
During the seminar church members were subjected to sermons by both Long and Taylor, and a presentation as to why they should invest with Taylor’s company and its subsidiary Clean Sweeps.
However, according to attorney Quenton Seay, those who trusted Long and invested with the company lost every penny, in some cases their entire life savings.
Seay, who is representing the 10 plaintiffs, said that his clients were issued promissory notes with a high-rate of interest that had a nine- to 12-month maturity rate, but when they called to check on the status of their investments they couldn’t get a straight answer as to where their money was.
“It was then that they began to get an inkling that things were not as they seemed,” Seay said.
Lillian Wells, a plaintiff who invested $122,000, said that at first glance it seemed like a legitimate investment. Wells said the seminar went together with a series of sermons Long gave on investing for the future.
“He made a presentation at the Sunday morning service,” Wells said of Taylor. “He said this was a sure investment not driven by the stock market.”
Wells said after the initial presentation, Taylor held a meeting the following Monday with members interested in investing.
“He had a representative from Equity Trust, which is a self-directing, IRA-type company…He had other people from his staff there and he said they were financial advisors,” Wells said.
It was then that Wells decided to take her retirement fund out of Bank of America and invest it with Taylor. She said, originally, she wanted to invest her money in real estate properties throughout Georgia, one of the options Taylor mentioned during his presentation.
“They informed me that since Taylor was not familiar with the Georgia market he wanted to invest in properties in Chicago,” which Wells agreed to.
However, when the nine months were up, Wells said she called the company to recoup her investment but none of the employees she spoke with could put her in touch with anybody that could get her money back.
“It just went on from there and then they stopped answering my calls altogether,” Wells said.
According to the lawsuit, Taylor’s company was actually “insolvent” at that time and “relying on income derived from the issuance of illegal promissory notes to new investors to stay in business.”
“The really sad thing about this case is that none of this would have happened without the involvement of Bishop Long and New Birth Church,” Seay said. “They enabled Taylor by assisting in the gaining of trust of City Capitol.”
Wells said, early on, she and other members had hoped Long would help them get their money back. However, after several meetings with the bishop they realized that hope was a dead end, she said.
“Long said that he would try to get some assistance for us and he knew a couple of attorney friends that we could work with to get some resolution and try to contact Taylor,” Wells said. But after several more meetings with the bishop, the lawyers, and Taylor, never appeared.
Recently, Long posted a video on Youtube asking for Taylor to pay back the money owed to his parishioners. However, Long’s attorney Craig Gillen was contacted for this story and offered no comment on the ongoing lawsuit.
Wells, who attended New Birth Missionary Baptist Church before Long became head pastor, said she and several other plaintiffs still go to services every Sunday, but now it’s for a different purpose.
“I figure if you see me sitting there every day and you know I’m hurt it doesn’t just go away,” Wells said.