Neil Armstrong, Gleaner Writer
A Toronto pastor with Jamaican links, his wife and a church administrator have been charged for allegedly defrauding congregation members, their families and friends of millions of dollars.
Marlon Hibbert, 49, and his 48-year-old wife Verna Hibbert along with Lorraine Bahlmann, 47, have been charged with 38 counts of fraud.
The Hibberts were arrested on May 2 while Bahlmann was taken into custody a day later.
The pastor and his wife have been granted bail in the amount of $200,000 each and all three are expected back in court on May 28.
Detective Gail Regan, of the Service’s Financial Crimes Unit, at a press conference at police headquarters on May 3, estimated there are almost 200 victims and she is asking those that have not contacted police to do so.
The police report that it is alleged that the husband and wife operated an independent ministry, Masonic Church of God, as co-pastors between January 2005 and December 2010.
During that time, the accused convinced congregation members and their families and friends to invest money with the pastor in the form of loan agreements and investment contracts.
The victims, who were told that the pastor was a successful foreign currency trader, were promised high rates of return compounded monthly.
“Each month, the accused would have statements, which he would send to the victims showing growth in their investment accounts when in fact the accused was losing money,” said Regan.
She said the accused is believed to have transferred large portions of the victim’s money to Panama.
The police alleged that Bahlmann was an administrative clerk responsible for mailing or e-mailing inaccurate account statements to victims showing they were earning healthy returns on their investments.
The investors launched a complaint with the Ontario Securities Commission after they failed to see the promised return on their investments.
The commission’s audit concluded that the accused was responsible for defrauding investors of close to $8.6 million of which more than $4 million remains outstanding.
Regan said some of the victims have lost their homes and life savings.
“The victims are hurt and distraught,” she said.
The 38 victims, who have so far contacted police, have lost nearly $2.1 million.
After members of the Masonic Church of God started complaining about their investments, the Hibberts disbanded the church and started a new church, Life Centre Word of Faith Ministries, from a rented space in a school in the east end of Toronto.
Marlon Hibbert is the son of Reverend Guy Hibbert and his wife, Lois, founders of the Grace and Mercy Mission in Kingston, Jamaica.
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