Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch – 4-30-2015 • A controversial St. Charles pastor with a worldwide “Christian Roots” following pleaded guilty to four charges in federal court here Thursday, admitting he defrauded elderly investors.
Jim Staley, 40, falsely claimed that the investments he peddled were risk-free and would yield a big profit in just two years. He didn’t tell investors he and others would immediately siphon off at least 40 percent of the money in commissions.
He also didn’t tell them that they’d lose everything if the investment couldn’t be sold.
In all, 16 investors lost $3.3 million while Staley made $570,000 in commissions, officials said.
At the time, Staley owned a financial consulting firm. He is now pastor of Passion For Truth Ministries. He did not respond to requests for comment left in advance of the hearing this week.
After Thursday’s plea hearing, lawyer Scott Rosenblum stressed that Staley’s criminal conduct “had nothing to do with his role as a pastor.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Dianna Collins said that Staley’s victims were elderly, and some invested because they said he was a Sunday school teacher and a “nice religious man.” They treated Staley like family. He called several “Grandma,” she said.
“Seniors tend to be more trusting and give people the benefit of the doubt, particularly people who hold themselves out as religious leaders,” Collins said. ‘It’s hard for them to believe that the ‘nice man’ who says he is a pastor is actually preying on them. Staley. . . gained their trust and stole millions from them.”
Staley first worked as a Missouri-licensed insurance agent, from 1999 to December 2008. In February 2008, he formed Wealth Financial International LLC. He also became a sales agent for a California company named B & B Equity Group LLC.
B&B promised a guaranteed high rate of return, because buyers were lining up for insurance policies whose premiums had been financed by Staley’s investors.
Staley convinced some of his Wealth Financial clients to cash in their annuities and invest the money in the B&B program, knowing that they’d lose “substantial surrender fees.”
Staley later become national sales manager of B&B. He continued to recruit salespeople, even after realizing the bundled life insurance policies weren’t selling and after receiving a cease-and-desist order from the Securities Division of the Missouri Secretary of State’s office in March 2009. Staley didn’t disclose the order to prospective investors.
In 2011, Staley and others were ordered to return commissions of $350,000 and repay $2.5 million. Staley was ordered to pay civil fines of $14,000.
None of the investors were members of his church, prosecutors said.
Staley’s church website says that he was a longtime “evangelical Christian apologist” who taught Bible study classes in the St. Louis area and helped “Christians learn to defend the Bible and evangelize.”
Staley “then had a supernatural experience and introduction to understanding the Bible through the original authors’ mindset and those in the First Century Church.”
Staley and other Roots Movement followers advocate the return and adherence to the first Christians’ walk of faith and obedience to the Torah. Staley calls it returning to the core Bible teaching “from the original author’s perspective” before churches “started adding and subtracting from the word of God.”
Staley has dedicated his life since 2007 teaching those “amazing life-changing truths” to others, the website says.
The church says Staley has appeared on multiple Christian television networks and several radio stations throughout the country, as well as online.
The ministry has grown to about 200 local members with an international following.
From January to November of 2012, the church had revenue of $1.34 million and expenses of $1.37 million, with $89,000 in the bank, according to one church video.
And the church continued to grow. Staley said that YouTube views grew from more than 1.2 million in 2012 to 2.8 million in 2013, equaling 55 years of viewing time. The church added YouTube channels in Russian and Spanish. Facebook “likes” grew from 22,000 to 116,00 in the same period.
Some criticize Staley’s lifestyle. He, his wife, Cheryl, and their six daughters live in a 5,000-square-foot, $1 million home in St. Charles County that they rent from Robert Keppel, a former professional baseball player.
Staley’s supporters overflowed the courtroom Thursday, forcing federal agents and court staff to move to other seats. After the hearing, Staley said a few words and thanked supporters for coming. they responded with a round of applause.