A former financial advisor charged with defrauding churchgoers of millions by spending the money they gave him to invest in real estate investment trusts surrendered to the FBI this week.
Jesse Alvin Cripps Sr., 57, previously of Visalia, Calif., surrendered on Monday to the FBI in Dallas. He is charged with 27 counts of mail fraud and three counts of money laundering, announced U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California Benjamin B. Wagner. Wagner's office says Cripps defrauded investors of at least $2 million.
The indictment alleges that between July 2001 and June 2008, Cripps, who was working as a financial advisor, devised a scheme to defraud investors through various means, using his church contacts to solicit individuals to invest money with him. In most instances, Cripps offered individuals an opportunity to purportedly invest in a REIT.
The indictment alleges that Cripps told investors that the REIT fund was an investment group for real estate in either Nevada or California, that the REIT fund was secured by the property, that they would earn typically 10% to 12% a month, and that if the investment did not work out, the investor would still own the property and could sell it. The indictment alleges that as a result of Cripps's false and fraudulent statements, investors gave him money to invest in the purported real estate investment trusts. Instead of investing, Cripps used the money for his own business and personal expenses.
The indictment also alleges that as part of his scheme to defraud, Cripps would periodically send the investors statements showing the purported progress of their investments and the interest earned to date. The defendant would also use investors' money to pay interest amounts owed to other investors. The indictment alleges that both the periodic payments and statements lulled the investors into believing the legitimacy of their investments, brought in new investors, and avoided reporting to and detection by law enforcement.
In addition to the mail fraud charges, the indictment also charges Cripps with money laundering. After depositing the investors money into his accounts, Cripps made cash withdrawals in amounts greater than $10,000 and wired $25,000 overseas to his account in Gibraltar. As a result of his scheme, Cripps obtained at least $2 million from investors, many of whom lost their entire life savings and retirement.
If convicted, Cripps faces a maximum statutory penalty of 30 years in prison for each count of mail fraud, a $250,000 fine and up to five years supervised release following incarceration. The maximum statutory penalty for international money laundering is 20 years in prison, a $500,000 fine and up to three years supervised release following incarceration, and the maximum statutory penalty for money laundering proceeds in amounts greater than $10,000 is 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, to be followed by three years of supervised release.