Criminal Justice

Bishop with a Penchant for Antique Books Is One of Two Lawyers Charged in $52M Ponzi Scheme

Two suburban lawyers, one of them an ordained American Anglican bishop, have been charged in a $52 million Ponzi scheme involving high-interest loans made by U.S. investors for U.K. borrowers.

The priest, 62-year-old Martin Sigillito of suburban St. Louis, Mo., is charged along with a suburban Kansas City, Mo., lawyer, 66-year-old James Scott Brown, according to the St. Louis Business Journal, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Riverfront Times blog, the Daily RFT. Sigillito is accused of using his religious and social connections, along with his mastery of several languages, to recruit borrowers in the decade-long scheme.

The lawyers are accused of raising money for Derek Smith of Oxfordshire, England, who eventually became the only borrower in the so-called British Lending Program, the Post-Dispatch says. Brown and Smith are charged with a single count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, while Sigillito is charged with 21 counts of money laundering and mail and wire fraud, according to an indictment unsealed Wednesday.

The lawyers are accused of telling investors they would have to pay fees of less than 10 percent while actually charging 32 percent or more, the Post-Dispatch says. Sigillito allegedly took $7.8 million and Brown $1.4 million in fees. Most of the money collected from the investors went to Sigillito and Brown, or was used to pay interest and principal to other lenders, the indictment alleges.

Sigillito is accused of spending the fees on rare and antique books, maps, prints, coins, jewelry, artifacts, liquor and rugs, according to a press release reprinted by the Daily RFT. The government is seeking forfeiture of $52.5 million, to be derived from the sale of items seized from Sigillito.

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