Consumer Alert: Charity acted as a front for international gemstone scam
Be leery of a guaranteed return on your investment.
Pastor Samuel Solanky was a man of the cloth and the host of a TV show, but authorities say he betrayed those who trusted him by stealing millions.
"They claimed they wanted to donate a couple of million dollars to his charity, but they needed him to send payments for them to file the appropriate paperwork to do this donation," says John Marsh, a U.S. Postal Inspector.
Solanky, who ran a charity called India at our Doorsteps, responded to the Nigerians making that offer by sending $50,000 of his own money.
"But they kept saying, 'we need you to pay us more in order for us to file the appropriate paperwork to give you two million dollars,'" says Marsh.
Authorities say that's when Solanky came up with this scheme.
"He told people, 'if you give me an investment, you'll get a 100 percent return on your investment within three months, and I'm going to use your money to buy gemstones and diamonds in India and sell them to jewelry manufacturers in the U.S.,'" says Marsh.
But there was no gemstone business. Thirty-five to 40 people lost about $3 million. Solanky had connected with many of the victims through other ministers.
"One victim in particular lost $160,000," says Marsh. "That was pretty much her life savings that she was to going to use to purchase a home for her and her family."
Postal inspectors say there is a lesson here.
"When someone promises you 100 percent return on an investment in three months, it's very, very unlikely that's a legitimate investment," says Marsh.
Solanky never received the $2 million promised by the Nigerian con artists. Instead, he received a sentence of more than four years in prison on mail fraud charges.