Jeff Smith 12:15 p.m., April 24
Religious Scammer Gets 25 Years, Told To Cough Up $43 Million
John Harrell, who once claimed to control a trillion dollar trust, today (Jan. 8), was sentenced to 25 years in prison for his masterminding of a religious scam. He was told to forfeit $2.4 million and pay $40.6 million in restitution to victims. He pleaded guilty to 28 counts of fraud and money laundering charges. The scam was run out of San Diego. The U.S. Attorney's office said that the enterprise cheated investors out of tens of millions of dollars. The scammers claimed they were raising the money to support religious activities and finance medical research, among other things. But they spent it on themselves. Churchgoers were awed when Harrell claimed he controlled a trillion dollar trust that had been given him by a direct descendant of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church. Several of Harrell's co-conspirators got prison time as well as demands to give money back to fleeced investors. The story of this faith scam ran in the Reader Oct. 2, 2003.