U.S. District Judge Margaret Seymour on Thursday approved a plan that would pay out about $19 million to 3,842 investors who were swindled by Joseph Brunson, Timothy McQueen and Tony Pough. They were convicted in 2009 on 58 counts each of mail fraud, money laundering and other charges.
The plan – proposed by Greenville attorney Beattie Ashmore, who was appointed by Seymour in 2007 to act as the receiver in the case – would mark the first payouts to the thousands of investors who said they were fleece by the trio.
The men drew their nickname from a biblical tale about believers in God who survived being tossed into a fiery furnace because of their faith.
In their pitch, the men told investors they had been through the flames of crushing debt and survived, thanks to their secret investments and the power of God.
Prosecutors said the three men traveled to churches and other gatherings across the Southeast and spoke to soldiers near military outposts, preaching how faith and an investment in what they said were foreign currencies would at least double their money, wipe out credit card debt and pay off mortgages in months.
But authorities said the men preyed on debt-plagued investors, actually putting less than $1 out of every $10,000 into the foreign currency markets. A very small percentage did go to other investments but most of it went for a fleet of expensive cars, vacation homes, pro football game luxury boxes and a Gulfstream jet.
Over the past five years, Ashmore and his team have assembled and sold off those high-end items, also unearthing millions of dollars in hidden assets belonging to the men.
Ashmore said the first round of payouts means that the more than 3,800 certified claimants will be getting back nearly 47 percent of their total investments with the men, who remained defiant to the end and told authorities they believed they did nothing wrong and were trying to help people.
“They’ve never cooperated and actually did all they could to frustrate our efforts,” Ashmore said. “To this day, we continue to look for hidden assets.”
The receiver’s work is ongoing, and Ashmore did not say when a second round of payments could happen or how big the final total payout could be.
As part of their sentences, the three were ordered to repay $82 million in restitution.
Brunson, McQueen and Pough are appealing their convictions. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor heard arguments in that case last month as part of a three-judge appellate panel visiting Greenville.