Last Sunday, as I drove home from my church in Marietta, Georgia, I thought about Bishop Eddie Long, a person who prior to last week I had never heard of much less ever thought about. My wife had told me that he was speaking to his congregation Sunday morning, the media would be in attendance, and that he planned to address the sex scandal allegations. Needless to say, like many, I was curious to find out what he was going to say and I hoped that by listening and/or watching his sermon, I could utilize my skills to detect whether he committed the terrible things alleged.
When I got home, I immediately went to my computer and pulled up the CNN website and there it was – a section of his sermon there for the viewing. I am an Atlanta-based attorney who has a national practice of suing financial advisors for investment fraud and garden variety portfolio mismanagement. I have witnessed many slick stockbrokers lie under oath. The trick to catching them is to drag them through the details because liars hate details. Much to my dismay, Bishop Long did not go into any details. He did not even directly deny the allegations. Most of what I saw was rhetoric and citations to bible stories meant to energize the audience. If nothing, Bishop Long is a dynamic speaker – even while wearing a white jumpsuit that looked like it was pulled out of a Star Trek closet.
I do not know whether Bishop Long is guilty but what was painfully clear is that the vast majority of his congregation blindly follow him. Trust permeated from my computer screen. A quote on CNN.com today stated, “People come to believe that to turn on him is to not be committed to God.” Judging from that video, I believe it.
I also could not help but think that those same members of the New Birth Church are sitting ducks for an affinity fraud investment scam. What is affinity fraud? Affinity fraud is the single most effective technique used by unscruplous financial advisors to defraud investors. The plan is simple – gain investors’ trust and they will follow you to the ends of the earth. Churches have long been the breeding ground for many affinity fraud scams because church is a place that is rooted in trust. Last month, the North American Securities Adminstrators Association (NASAA), an organization comprised of current and former state securities regulators listed affinity fraud as the top scam technique. NASAA also stated that the best way to avoid this trap is to seek more information about the investment from an unbiased, unaffiliated third party.
I hope that BIshop Long’s congregation follows NASAA’s advice and looks beyond New Birth for godly advice.
Jason Doss is the owner of The Doss Firm, LLC, an Atlanta-based law firm devoted to representing consumers across the country in a variety of areas including investment disputes and consumer class action litigation. Mr. Doss earned his J.D. from Florida State University in 2002 and his B.A. from the University of Florida in 1997.