Ponzi Scheme Strikes Bethel Church

By J.C. Derrick
Bethel Church
Bethel Church in Redding, California

In 2009, a conman bilked members Bethel Church in Redding, California, out of more than $650,000. Now, two shysters peddling a Ponzi scheme have reportedly struck the controversial megachurch again—this time defrauding investors of $35 million from 2015 to 2020.

Accused in a recently unsealed 31-count indictment by the Department of Justice (DOJ) is 44-year-old Matthew Piercey and his alleged accomplice, 67-year-old Kenneth Winton. Piercey is a congregant of Bethel Church. And Winton describes himself as a “God Lover” on his Facebook page where he often posts Scripture and inspirational thoughts.

“Piercey used (his two companies) Family Wealth Legacy and Zolla to solicit funds from investors using a variety of false and misleading statements, including about trading algorithms, the success of the companies’ investment strategies, and the liquidity of investments,” the DOJ said in a press release announcing the charges.

When Piercey’s outlandish claims about investment returns failed to materialize, investigators say he and Winton funneled some $8.8 million back to earlier investors, constituting a Ponzi scheme.

“Piercey entered a pattern of paying old investors lulling payments with new investor funds, while making various false and misleading statements, half-truths, and omissions to raise new money and to hide the constant downward financial spiral,” government attorneys wrote in a court filing on Nov. 17.

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According to The Sacramento Bee, Piercey specifically recruited Bethel Church members as investors.

Additionally, court documents say that when Piercey learned of the FBI’s investigation into his activities, he urged investors not to cooperate with the probe. In an email to one investor, Piercey suggested that the probe was a response to a letter Piercey had sent President Trump about saving the banking system.

“In light of our emboldened focus to rescue the banking system,” Piercey wrote, “be advised I anticipate potential new levels of regulatory scrutiny.”

If Piercey truly targeted Bethel members, it would be at least the second time the church has found itself embroiled in such a scandal. In 2009, a jury sentenced Bethel congregant David Souza to 18 years in prison after he conned fellow parishioners out of between $650,000—$947,000 using a fake investment pitch and the tagline, “Where business is moral and the miraculous is routine.”

Churches tend to be susceptible to what experts call “affinity fraud,” a scam that spreads in a tight-knit community.

“Once the fraud breaks into a group, trust is there, and the guard is dropped,” said Kevin Baker, a private investigator who previously led the FBI’s white collar crime unit in northern California. “Churches are ripe for it.”

In this case, Bethel’s theological beliefs may have also contributed: The church promotes the prosperity gospel and teaches faith healing at its School of Supernatural Ministry.

“It’s fair to say if people are already thinking outside the box, they’d be more receptive to things that are not in the mainstream,” Baker told The Roys Report.

The church seems to be aware of its potential vulnerability. On its website is a highly unusual “investing policy and disclaimer,” which reads in part: “Although we pray for miracles in economies and investments, Bethel Church board members, leaders, and management are neither financial advisors nor investment consultants and in no way represent ourselves as such.”

The statement goes on to say it is against church policy to promote or solicit investment opportunities on Bethel property and says leadership “strongly recommends that you seek expert investment advice from qualified professionals before considering any form of investment.”

Bethel communications director Aaaron Tesauro reiterated that policy in an emailed statement to The Roys Report. He confirmed Piercey and his family do attend services at Bethel but said they are not official members. He said the church was “unaware of his personal financial decisions.”

Piercey’s recent arrest drew national attention when he used an underwater “sea scooter” to attempt to avoid arrest.

Bethel also made headlines recently when a surge of more than 100 COVID-19 cases were linked to Bethel’s School of Supernatural Ministry.

According to court documents, Piercey could face, on “the low end,” life in prison for his cumulative offenses. Investigator Kevin Baker said life sentences for financial crimes is rare, but Piercey will face significant consequences, if convicted.

J.C. DerrickJ.C. Derrick is a journalist and former managing editor at WORLD Magazine.



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7 thoughts on “Ponzi Scheme Strikes Bethel Church”

  1. When I heard the initial reports of Piercey trying to escape from law enforcement, my first thought was that this was somehow connected to Bethel. So here we go again! Certainly not the first time nor the last time parishioners & church staff get snared into either ponzi scheme, or some multi level pyramid scheme. What is with these churches and money?? Sad!

  2. I think people who have been giving Mammon to Johnson’s circus have been getting scammed for a long time. Just talked with a friend who was once on that ride. He did not disagree at all. He got taken for a ride and so are those still inside the tent.

  3. The old adage, “fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me”, seems to be painfully relevant. Sadly, there are still suckers born every minute- even in the Church. Apparently the ‘prosperity’ teaching at Bethel has lead to a lack of doing due diligence and common sense.

  4. Well, well, it looks like all the “prophets foretelling a transfer of wealth in 2020” nailed it!

    And even with the novel underwater “sea scooter” Matt Piercey was no “Thunderball” to replace the late Sean Connery.

    1. I find this article misleading because although it occurred at Bethel, the church itself was not involved. It could have been a group of doctors involved, or teachers, or any group of people. Wheather you agree with Bethel’s teaching or not, that is your decision. The ones who committed the crime should be punished, but not the church. Anyone who desires to invest money these days needs to investigate the person you are handing your hard earned money to, friend or stranger.

      1. “According to The Sacramento Bee, Piercey specifically recruited Bethel Church members as investors.

        Piercey is a congregant of Bethel Church.”

        The church is people. Therefore Bethel Church was involved in the Ponzi scheme. It just did not involve the top brass, who possibly have enough loot already this side of “the streets paved with gold”.

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