Man pleads guilty in investment scam that included DeKalb megachurch

A man who targeted church groups across Georgia pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court to defrauding hundreds of victims of their retirement savings.

Ephren Taylor II took in more than $7 million nationwide — including $2 million from at least 80 victims across Georgia, said U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates in Atlanta.

Taylor claimed to be a socially conscious investor while traveling the country on a “Building Wealth Tour,” giving wealth management seminars to church congregations. One of the churches whose membership he scammed was the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, a megachurch with many affluent members.

Taylor claimed 20 percent of the profits were donated to charity and he vamped promissory notes in investments such as juice bars, laundries, and gas stations that he knew would not be profitable, Yates said. But Taylor not only promised profits, but ones as high as 300 percent in “sweepstakes machines,” which are computers loaded with games that offer cash prizes to players, officials said.

“The United States Secret Service is aggressive in our investigative mission to arrest those who commit financial crimes,” said Reginald G. Moore, Special Agent in Charge of the United States Secret Service, Atlanta Field Office. “In this case, we were particularly resolved to bring to justice a criminal who chose to take advantage of unsuspecting members of the public in environments of reverence and trust.”

Taylor’s co-defendant, Wendy Connor, the former COO of City Capital Corporation, participated in a conspiracy to defraud investors and also has pleaded guilty in the scheme that ran from April 2009 to October 2010, Yates said.

The sentencing for Taylor, 32, of Overland Park, Kan., is scheduled for Dec. 18 at 2:30 p.m. Connor, 45, of Raleigh, N.C., is scheduled to be sentenced the same day at 9:30 a.m.