A self-described "social capitalist" has been charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) with running a Ponzi scheme that swindled $11 million from socially-conscious investors in church congregations.
The SEC alleges that Ephren W. Taylor II, 29, of New York City, lured investors into two investment programs offered through City Capital Corporation, where he was the CEO. But instead of investing the money in charitable causes and economically disadvantaged businesses, Taylor secretly used hundreds of thousands of dollars to publish and promote his books; hire consultants to refine his public image, and fund his wife's singing career.
The SEC also charged City Capital, its former chief operating officer, Wendy Connor of North Carolina, and Taylor with receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from investors in salary and commissions.
The SEC's complaint, filed in federal court in Atlanta on Wednesday, claims that Taylor cultivated an image as a highly successful and socially conscious entrepreneur, marketing himself as "the social capitalist" and claiming that he was the youngest black CEO of a public company and the son of a son of a Christian minister who understood the importance of giving back.
However, SEC Fort Worth Regional Office Director David Woodcock said Taylor was more in the business of promoting himself than helping others. "He preyed upon investors' faith and their desire to help others, convincing them that they could earn healthy returns while also helping their communities," he said.
The SEC claims that Taylor and City Capital offered two primary investments: promissory notes supposedly funding various small businesses and interests in "sweepstakes" machines. In addition to promising high rates of return, Taylor assured investors that he had a long track record of success and that investor funds would be used to support businesses in economically disadvantaged areas and a portion of the profits would go to charity.
The SEC claims that more than $11 million that Taylor and City Capital raised from hundreds of investors nationwide from 2008 to 2010 was instead used to operate the Ponzi scheme. Investor money was misused to pay other investors, finance Taylor's personal expenses, and fund City Capital's payroll, rent and other costs. City Capital's business ventures were consistently unprofitable, and no meaningful amounts of investor money were ever sent to charities, according to the SEC.
The SEC is asking that Taylor be forced to forfeit any ill-gotten gains and pay financial penalties, and for permanent injunctive relief against City Capital, Taylor, and Connor. The SEC also seeks to permanently bar Taylor and Connor from dealing in securities.