Editor’s Note: I often write about the dangers of trusting people in your LDS ward or religious community who are pitching investments, but real stories are sometimes more effective. Below is a CLASSIC example of how members of the LDS Church are targeted for fraud.
St. George man gets prison term for stealing from fellow Latter-day Saints in financial scam
SALT LAKE CITY — A St. George man who took advantage of a couple in his Latter-day Saint congregation in a financial scam is headed to federal prison.
Gregory Moats Sampson, 46, will spend two years behind bars after pleading guilty to wire fraud and money laundering.
U.S. District Judge David Nuffer enhanced the sentence because the scheme put substantial financial hardship on the couple. The judge also ordered Sampson to pay $250,000 in restitution and to serve three years probation after his prison sentence.
Sampson met the couple, identified in court documents as J.S. and K.S., in 2012 when he was their real estate agent. They had $250,000 to invest after selling a home in Australia. Sampson told them he had invested funds for others in the past and could help them, according to court documents.
J.S. and K.S. were not sophisticated investors and believed they could trust Sampson based on the relationship they had with them, prosecutors said. He told them they could earn $1 million in eight to 10 years and that they would receive stock in a company. He also told them that because they were friends, he would not charge them for their investment.
Instead of investing the money, Sampson spent it all within a month of receiving it, including $98,000 to pay off a personal loan, $82,000 to a company his brother owned, and $20,000 to a company that had nothing to do with the investment, according to court documents.
When the couple asked for a portfolio of their investment, Sampson did not provide one but regularly told them it was performing well.
The couple eventually confronted Sampson and demanded documentation or their money back.
According to court records, he told them: “And you know who gets screwed in the deal? You do … and it’s not to say that I’m trying to protect my own (expletive) because I’m not going anywhere, I promise you. If I need to disappear, I would have already been gone. I’ve got enough money that I can disappear if I need to. …”
Chris Parker, executive director of the Utah Department of Commerce, said affinity fraud continues to be a problem in Utah.
“Scammers will use any social connection available to gain your trust and take your money,” he said.
While federal fraud cases typically focus on losses in the million of dollars, scammers in smaller cases also face stiff penalties, said U.S. Attorney John Huber.
“There is no sweet spot in fraud loss where schemers can fly under the radar and get away with it,” he said. “Once again, we remind Utah investors to beware of the risks associated with big promises from purported friends and neighbors.”