Former President George W. Bush’s longtime spiritual advisor, Rev. Kirbyjon H. Caldwell, the pastor of a Houston megachurch, has been indicted on federal charges of defrauding mostly elderly and vulnerable investors out of more than $1 million.
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Caldwell provided the benediction at both of Bush’s presidential inaugurations and presided over his daughter Jenna’s wedding in 2008.
President Bush also frequently attended services at Caldwell’s Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston.
— Newsweek (@Newsweek) March 30, 2018
Caldwell was an investment banker and bond broker before becoming a pastor and is the author of the 1999 book “The Gospel of Good Success: A Road Map to Spiritual, Emotional and Financial Wholeness,” in which he explains how God wants all Christians to be successful in their lives– including financially.
His pitch was good enough over the last 46 years to build up his church from 25 to over 16,000 members, many of whom came to believe whatever he told them.
According to a 13-count indictment handed down by a federal grand jury, Caldwell and Alan Smith, a Louisiana financial planner, conspired to use the pastor’s status to gain investors’ trust.
They are now charged with money laundering and wire fraud and face $1 million fines and potentially 20 years in prison if convicted.
The Securities and Exchange Commission is also charging them both with violations of financial laws.
“Although many investors did not understand the investment,” a complaint from the Securities and Exchange Commission reads, “they ultimately trusted Smith and took comfort in the fact that a high-profile pastor was offering the investment.”
U.S. Attorney Alexander Van Hook of the Western District of Louisiana claims that Caldwell used his status as pastor of the church to gain investors’ trust.
The investment they were offering was in bonds issued by the Republic of China prior to the 1949 Communist takeover of the Chinese mainland.
The current Chinese government does not recognize or back the bonds, which are now considered worthless.
“Smith and Caldwell promised high rates of return,” according to a statement from the prosecutor, “sometimes three to 15 times the value of the investments.
Instead of investing the funds,” the statement continued, “the defendants used them to pay personal loans, credit card balances, mortgages, vehicle purchases and other personal expenses.”
“Many of the investors were allegedly ‘unsophisticated retirees’ who followed Smith’s advice to liquidate their annuities to invest in the scheme,” reports HuffPost.
“The SEC says none of the investors receive any return on their investments, and that the majority never made back their principal investment.”
When investors became worried in 2014, Caldwell and Smith sent them emails and texts promising they would be paid. The SEC complaint says Caldwell used “religious references” to give investors hope that they would be repaid, telling them to “remain faithful.”
An attorney for Caldwell claims that he did not know the bonds were worthless, denies he used any of his religious connections to get them to invest and says the pastor invested himself.
That is little comfort to the senior citizens who lost their life savings and saw their retirement cushions evaporate.
The idea that they did not invest because Caldwell was their spiritual advisor is too far-fetched to believe because he clearly was very good at what he did to have built such a big following.
Caldwell was also convincing enough to get President Bush as a follower, which only added to his credibility with his flock, his community, and his investors.
Under Bush, the evangelical movement gained great prominence and status but since then a lot of their high moral preaching has turned sour as the former president fell from grace. More recently, those same holy people have continued to worship Trump despite his adultery, lies and numerous misdeeds.
Religion for some, especially the elderly, can be like a drug that becomes an addiction to keep them hopeful and tithing even when things don’t go well. In this case, it appears Caldwell used every tool available to a religious leader to get what he wanted, regardless of the fact that it ruined lives along the way.