Former members of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia have filed a new suit against Bishop Eddie Long, alleging that he was warned beforehand about a fraudulent investment scheme that caused them to lose nearly $1 million.
In 2009, Long sponsored a series of investment seminars at the church titled The Wealth Tour Live, which took place Oct. 17-23. In the original lawsuit, filed in October 2011, 10 former members alleged that Long used his position at the church to “coerce those in attendance” to trust Ephren Taylor, then CEO of City Capitol Corp. Taylor, who was in his early 20s at the time, was presented by Long as a “self-made millionaire,” and an ordained minister.
According to the lawsuit, Long did not invest himself, but urged his congregation to invest with Taylor, whom he introduced as his “friend (and) brother” prior to the seminar.
The new lawsuit, which now includes 12 plaintiffs and was filed Feb. 6, says that two weeks before the seminars took place, Long and the church “were warned” that Taylor and his company “would defraud” church members who participated in the seminar.
According to the suit, on Oct. 5, 2009, an anonymous person called the church to warn Long that Taylor would “defraud the seminar attendees by selling them promissory notes and that there would be no return on the investments.”
The suit alleges that Long’s assistant, Lori Allen, wrote down the warning from the caller in a memorandum and sent it to Long.
The suit also says that Allen informed another church official of the message, who then forwarded the message via email to Long and another church official. Jason Doss, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, said his clients would not have lost their money if Long had heeded the warning.
“When a church receives a warning that is so specific about what was going to happen….they should have stopped the seminar, not allowed the seminars to happen,” he said. “Had that happened we wouldn’t be here today.”
According to the suit, with the encouragement of Long and Taylor, the former members transferred funds from their IRA and 401K accounts to self-directed IRAs that were set up and maintained at Equity Trust Bank Company.
“Once the plaintiffs’ money was rolled into self-directed IRAs, the plaintiffs were instructed to execute promissory notes in favor of City Capital,” the suit said. “The notes were for nine-to 12-month terms and promised a rate of returns of 15-20 percent.”
Doss said a lot of his clients are in bad shape financially and could use the money that they lost.
“Their houses are being foreclosed,” he said. “Some of them are living in their basements to conserve [money]. It’s sad.”
“These people have devoted their lives to this church,” Doss said. “They trusted the bishop and trusted that the church would certainly look out for their best interest. They’re very disappointed that the seminars took place at all.”