by: Jodie Fleischer Updated:DEKALB COUNTY, Ga.,None —
Channel 2 Action News has confirmed federal agents have questioned members of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church about a failed investment scandal. It's part of an ongoing case involving more than $1 million lost by church members who are now suing the investment company, and the church.
"Many of us with our wealth and with our money, we're foolish," Ephren Taylor told thousands of New Birth members during church services in October 2009.
Lillian Wells says the foolish decision she made was trusting Taylor and his company with her life savings, $122,000.
"He needs to be put under the jail, not in the jail," said Wells, who is now a plaintiff in the lawsuit along with nine others. She says Taylor's company promised her a 20 percent return in interest.
The lawsuit claims Taylor in some cases assured church members the investments 'were safe, conservative and that they would provide guaranteed income.' It turns out Taylor and his companies were not licensed to sell investments or render investment advice in Georgia.
"I think he knew what he was doing all along and just was there for a farce. It was all false," Wells told Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer.
Fleischer asked Wells if she would have invested with Taylor if he wasn't recommended by Bishop Long.
"I wouldn't have. Flat out, I wouldn't have," Wells replied.
She says that's exactly what she told federal agents from the Secret Service who questioned her last month about Taylor's activities and the investments.
Attorney Quinton Seay says several of the other plaintiffs were also questioned.
Secret Service Agent Malcolm Wiley confirmed the Secret Service now has an open case on Ephren Taylor and his companies’ activities.
DeKalb County Police Lieutenant Pam Kunz confirmed that agency also received complaints about Taylor, and forwarded them to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC declined to comment.
But the securities division of Georgia's Secretary of State's office confirms it has launched a separate investigation involving potential violations of Georgia's Securities Act by Ephren Taylor and his company, City Capital Corporation. Investigators want to know how the church members came to invest with Taylor and whether any laws were broken.
Secretary of State Brian Kemp said, "It is possible the scope of the investigation could expand as we obtain additional information. If any individuals believe they may have information relating to our investigation, they are urged to contact the Secretary of State's office."
Attorneys for Wells and the other plaintiffs say Bishop Eddie Long and his church should also be responsible for the investment losses.
"With regard to the Georgia securities laws, he stepped out of the traditional role as a pastor and stepped into the role as a salesman of securities," said Jason Doss, Wells' attorney.
In fact the new lawsuit alleges 'New Birth and Bishop Long directly or indirectly received compensation from the other defendants, for allowing them to render investment advice and to solicit the investment opportunities.'
"If that is so, that would mean that maybe he was a part of it," added Wells.
In February, Bishop Long made a plea to Taylor to return the money.
"Please do what's right great fellow great man, let's settle this for these families and move on," said Long in a video message posted on YouTube.
The lawsuit says Long used his position of power and authority to coerce plaintiffs and other church members to trust the defendants Ephren Taylor and his companies. Wells says she lost her entire savings, and is just weeks from losing her home to foreclosure.
“You lead your sheep to the water and tell them to drink, you know, you drink. So you've already checked out that pond and made sure that that pond is safe for you to drink.”
A spokesman for Bishop Long and the church declined to comment.