Houston megachurch pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell pleads guilty to fraud using phony bonds
11 March 2020
After publicly denying the allegations, the Rev. Kirbyjon H. Caldwell, a Houston pastor who had the ear of presidents, admitted in a Louisiana federal courtroom on Wednesday to aiding in a multi-million dollar investment scheme, duping members of his flock into buying phony bonds.
Rev. Caldwell, who served as a spiritual adviser to Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, pleaded guilty to a massive wire fraud scheme that helped pay off his personal debt and maintain his lifestyle, according to court documents.
The judge set his sentencing for July 22.
Kirbyjon H. Caldwell serves as Limited Partner of Houston NFL Holdings, LP. Mr. Caldwell has been a Director of Amegy Bank National Association of Amegy Corporation since November 4, 2004.
A man accused of helping Houston megachurch pastor Kirbyjon H. Caldwell swindle millions from elderly investors with defunct Chinese bonds has pleaded guilty, federal officials in Louisiana said Tuesday.
Gregory Alan Smith, 55, changed his plea before Chief U.S. District Judge S. Maurice Hicks Jr. to conspiracy to commit wire fraud — just one charge from the 12-count indictment he received in March 2018, according to court records.
Prosecutors said Smith and Caldwell, the senior pastor of the Windsor Village United Methodist and spiritual adviser to former President George W. Bush, used their influence to dupe elderly and vulnerable investors into pouring about $3.5 million into the bonds, according to court records.
The bonds were issued prior to the Chinese Communist Revolution of 1949 and are not recognized by the current government, documents show. The Securities and Exchange Commissions considers the ornate slips of paper worthless outside of the memorabilia market.
The duo — with Smith posing as an investment adviser — began pitching potential investors on partial ownership in 2013 by saying Caldwell was brokering a deal to obtain the bonds and then sell the documents at a profit.
“If the individuals lacked the liquid assets to invest, Smith encouraged them to cash out annuities,” prosecutors wrote.
The investors were told to wire their funds to accounts belonging to either Caldwell, his Wyoming-based company LDT, or his attorney. The accounts accrued about $3.5 million from 2013 to 2014, investigators said in a document outlining the allegations.
Smith garnered about $1 million of the fraudulent earnings and used it to pay off a loan, produce a down payment on a vacation property and buy two luxury vehicles.
When investors confronted Smith and Caldwell about not receiving their earnings, the pair replied in texts and emails with excuses “as to why the deals had not yet closed, defended the legitimacy of the deals and assured the investors that they would receive their promised returns.”
“To date, no bond deal has closed, and only a few investors have received any refund of their initial investment,” records continued.
Smith’s attorney, Donald Hathaway Jr., declined to comment on the change of plea ahead of his client’s Dec. 11 sentencing.
After the indictment surfaced, Caldwell, the embattled pastor, professed his innocence and called the bonds legitimate.
“The process is legitimate,” Caldwell said last year. “I fully maintain that the accusation is baseless, and I hold evidence in my hand to the authenticity and the legitimacy of the bonds.”
Earlier this month, Caldwell announced that he had been diagnosed with stage one prostate cancer. His trial is set to begin on Dec. 2.
Elder Fraud Mr President is at Your Door and You Appointed the Fraudsters into the US Cabinet’s highest positions. After all, it is your choice who you chose as watchdog of America’s largest banks. Someone who signed a consent order — over shady foreclosure practices — with the very agency he’s now controlling.
Kirbyjon Caldwell : Early life
Caldwell was born in 1953 in Houston. His father was a tailor who made suits for James Brown, The Temptations and other celebrities. His mother was a high-school guidance counselor. His family lived in the Kashmere Gardens neighborhood of Houston, and Caldwell graduated from Kashmere High School.
He attended Carleton College, receiving a B.A. in economics in 1975. Caldwell then attended the Wharton School of Business, receiving an M.B.A. degree in 1977.
He worked briefly as an investment banker at First Boston in New York City before returning to Houston for a job at the bond firm of Hibbard, O’Conner and Weeks.
Caldwell felt called to Christian ministry, attending the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University and receiving a masters in divinity in 1981.
While working on his degree, Caldwell was appointed associate pastor at St. Mary’s United Methodist Church in Houston. He had been a member of the Continental Airlines board of directors since May 1999.
A major theme in Caldwell’s preaching has been the need for his congregation to follow Jesus Christ’s example with active involvement in community service. He retooled the Windsor Village United Methodist Church into a community help center.
Nonprofit organizations begun by the church include Patrice House, a shelter for abused children; a tutoring program for schoolchildren, and a program matching teenagers with mentors.
To accommodate the congregation, in 1993 the church purchased a former Kmart in an impoverished area of Houston and renovated it as the Power Center (for the retailing term “power center”).
In addition to worship space, the Power Center includes a school, a medical clinic, satellite classrooms for a local community college, low-cost office space, a branch of the Chase Bank (there were previously no banks in the neighborhood), a WIC nutrition program and an AIDS outreach center.
The Power Center’s mission is to create jobs in the low-income neighborhood and teach members of the neighborhood to create wealth.
Its motto is Isaiah 61.4: “They shall repair the ruined cities and restore what has long lain desolate”.
The Gospel of Good Success
In 1996 the Wall Street Journal ran a front-page story on Caldwell, which prompted Simon & Schuster to approach him about a book.
The 1999 book, co-authored with Mark Seal, was The Gospel of Good Success: A Road Map to Spiritual, Emotional, and Financial Wholeness and describes Caldwell’s theories on economic empowerment and success.
Relationship with George W. Bush
In 1996 George W. Bush, then governor of Texas, saw an article on Caldwell in the Dallas Morning News and contacted him. Bush spoke at the 1996 opening of the Power Center, and they agreed that a partnership between religious organizations and government could have positive social results. Although Caldwell is a political independent, in 2000 Bush asked Caldwell to introduce him at the 2000 Republican National Convention.
Caldwell offered the benediction at Bush’s 2001 inauguration.
His prayer triggered controversy;
Caldwell prayed in “the name that’s above all other names, Jesus the Christ. Let all who agree say amen”.
Alan Dershowitz wrote, “The plain message conveyed by the new administration is that George W. Bush’s America is a Christian nation, and that non-Christians are welcome into the tent so long as they agree to accept their status as a tolerated minority rather than as full equal citizens”.
Caldwell denies proselytizing, saying that he always prayed in the name of Jesus.
Days after the September 11 attacks in 2001, Caldwell was invited by President Bush to speak at the memorial at the Washington National Cathedral. Later that day, Caldwell joined Bush on his visit to the World Trade Center site. Bush wrote in Decision Points, “it was comforting to have a friend and a man of faith by my side”.
In 2003, Bush visited the Power Center for its 10th anniversary. Caldwell again offered the benediction at Bush’s second inauguration; this time he prayed, “respective of all faiths, I submit this prayer in the name of Jesus.”
On May 10, 2008 Caldwell officiated at the wedding of Jenna Bush and Henry Hager in Crawford, Texas.
Caldwell’s work at the Power Center was an inspiration for Bush’s “faith based initiatives”, and Caldwell was influential in the creation of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
Relationship with Barack Obama
Caldwell endorsed Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary, supporting him against John McCain in the presidential election. In August 2010, after media reports that 18 percent of Americans thought President Obama was a Muslim, Caldwell told reporters he had known Obama for years as a Christian who prays daily. He described the media questioning Obama’s religion as “a 24-hour noise box committed to presenting the president in a false light”.
Second book and recent work
Caldwell published his second book, Entrepreneurial Faith: Launching Bold Initiatives to Expand God’s Kingdom, in 2004. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Houston was home to thousands of displaced residents from New Orleans, Louisiana. Caldwell organized a food drive, Operation Compassion, with other churches in the Houston area to feed and pray for those living in the George R. Brown Convention Center and the Astrodome.
Caldwell, the Pyramid Residential Community Corporation and Ryland Homes built a Houston subdivision named Corinthian Pointe during the first decade of the 21st century. Located outside the 610 Loop and inside Beltway 8 near Reliant Park, it is the largest residential subdivision in Houston developed by a non-profit group. Many houses in the subdivision were sold at below-market prices.
Jean Hines-Caldwell Elementary School (the public elementary school in Corinthian Pointe) was named for Jean LaNell Hines-Caldwell, Caldwell’s mother.
In March 2018, Caldwell and financial planner Gregory Allen Smith were accused by federal prosecutors of defrauding investors of 3.4 million dollars through worthless bonds.
According to the 13-count indictment, Caldwell and Smith made millions selling historical Chinese pre-Communist government bonds as if they were valuable investment instruments. The bonds are worthless for that purpose, because China’s Communist government repudiated them.
They have historical value only, as collector’s items. Instead of investing the funds, the two men allegedly used the money for personal loans, credit card balances, mortgages, and vehicles.
The men each face up to 20 years in prison on wire fraud counts and 10 years on money laundering counts. Caldwell maintains that the bonds are legitimate and that he is “100 percent innocent”.
Caldwell’s first wife was Patrice Johnson, chief of staff for Texas congressman Mickey Leland, who died with Leland in a 1989 plane crash in Ethiopia. Patrice House is named for her.
His second wife is Suzette Turner, older sister of Miss America 1990 Debbye Turner. They have three children: Turner, Nia and Alexander. Pastor Suzette T. Caldwell chairs the Kingdom Builders’ Prayer Institute