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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.

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JohnnyVegas Jan. 9, 2008 @ 8:43 a.m.

Ouchie!! 25 years in Federal prison = 25 years (minus 15% for good behaviour).

Im glad he was prosecuted in federal court, so his long sentence is carried out.

It is funny, but his sentence is similar to the standard bank robber sentence of 20 years, whose haul may get a few thousand.

The disparity in the scam amount- 40 million to a few thousand- is so vast...........yet the sentence is almost the same.

White collar crime should have mandatory minimums based on amount scammed. Anything over say five million should be mandatory 10 years, over 10 million 20 years, and so forth. It is too disporportionate right now.


Don Bauder Jan. 9, 2008 @ 10:18 a.m.

Response to post #1: I agree and I would add another note about disproportionate justice: the billionaires and mega-millionaires who steal the most money -- say, hundreds of millions in a stock swindle -- get off completely, while the small-time thieves get time in the slammer. Best, Don Bauder


JohnnyVegas Jan. 9, 2008 @ 6:05 p.m.

I agree that most of the Big Wigs/Billionaires get away with a lot, but that is certainly changing. Look at Enron and Tyco for recent long sentences (not as long as they should have been!). We also had that publisher case out of Chicago recently, but I do not think the sentence in that case has been handed down yet.

In addition the attitude about white collar crime is changing at the top of DOJ. Not there yet, but coming along. I do seriously think the mandatory minimums should be appleid to amount stolen or scammed.


Don Bauder Jan. 9, 2008 @ 8:07 p.m.

Response to post #3: The only reason executives of Enron, Worldcom, and Tyco got tried and convicted is that there had been so much ugly publicity. The government had to act. The SEC regularly whacks little crooks for pump and dumps in which they might net a quarter of a million bucks or less. But the big boys who dump hundreds of millions worth of stock in a fraudulent venture get off. Why? A major reason is that the SEC is a training ground for high-powered securities lawyers. They work for the SEC for a brief period, and let some guilty nabob off. Then they get a job for $2 mil. year with a big law firm that may have represented the big bandit. The same is true at the Justice Department. Best, Don Bauder


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