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Missouri pastor gets 7 years for $3.3M investment scheme

Published:Thursday | August 20, 2015 | 12:00 AM

ST LOUIS (AP):

A pastor who admitted bilking US$3.3 million from at least 18 mostly elderly investors was ordered yesterday to spend seven years in federal prison and repay the victims, many having described in detail how the scheme plunged them or their parents into financial ruin.

Jim Staley, 40, appeared to hold back tears and at times wiped his nose with tissue while apologising to his victims in the courtroom's standing-room-only gallery, insisting that "I wish I could look at them in the face, but I can't." He pledged to make full restitution because "my faith requires me to do so".

But the seeming show of contrition didn't sway US District Judge E. Richard Webber, who credited the married father of six as being a devoted family man and pastor with no previous legal blemishes, but remarked, "This is the first time I've heard remorse from Mr Staley."

When hearing the prison term, Staley slumped forward in his chair and lowered his head.

Webber noted that his observations of body language of many of the onlookers suggested that "if they had the opportunity to attack Mr Staley, they would do that". So Webber said he had called for beefed-up security to keep the throng separated from Staley, who was allowed to remain free on bond until he is told to what prison he must report.

Federal prosecutors allege Staley, who was unregistered in Missouri to sell securities, earned more than US$570,000 in commissions while selling investment products he often claimed carried minimal risk and yielded large, guaranteed returns, in some cases 30 to 40 per cent.

Staley's attorney has insisted the fraud was unrelated to Staley's clergy work, though prosecutors said some victims invested with him because he was a "nice religious man," and that clergy by nature could be trusted.