A Nashville, Tenn., financial advisor, who bilked the members of his church congregation out of $500,000, has been sentenced to four years in prison for mail and securities fraud.

Jeffrey L. Cassman, 35, former owner of Cassman Financial Group Inc., had fled to Guatemala after his scheme was uncovered, but he was later taken into custody. He pleaded guilty to building a Ponzi scheme among church members in Nashville, using new money to pay off older investors.

He told investors he was investing their money in tax liens and other types of foolproof investments that would guarantee a high rate of return, when in fact he did not invest any of the money, according to U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin of the Middle District of Tennessee. The scheme continued from 2003 to 2005.

As part of the sentence, Cassman is prohibited from doing any financial investment work.

"This case illustrates the unfortunate reality that fraudsters often victimize those closest to them," Marin said. "Investment fraud of any kind undermines the public's trusts in the financial industry and leaves a trail of victims."

U.S.  District Court Judge Aleta Trauger added at sentencing that Cassman's case does immense harm, not only in financial terms, but in terms of emotional impact on his immediate and extended family.

After being indicted, Cassman had been on the Tennessee Most Wanted list before being located with his wife and children in Guatemala.

-Karen DeMasters