Gatlinburg preacher sentenced to federal prison for Ponzi scheme

Investigations

A former Gatlinburg preacher from was sentenced Thursday to more than five years in prison after admitting he operated a fraudulent investment scheme. The fraud by Roger Williams cost investors millions of dollars — a case WATE 6 on your side investigator Don Dare first broke four years ago. 

Williams walked into federal court in Knoxville on Thursday after pleading guilty to mail fraud and obstructing federal tax laws. Investigators say Williams operated a sophisticated Ponzi scheme netting him $2 million over a 14 year period.

The late Jimmy Vineyard told us in July 2014, he had contributed over $400,000 into Dash Holdings and Open Door Investment, which were operated by Roger Williams. But when his Jimmy’s wife, Ellen, became ill, he asked Williams for money to care for her. That’s when Williams told him there wasn’t any left to withdraw.

Read more: East Tennessee preacher pleads guilty to money laundering, fraud

Judy and Gerald Perkins had invested close to $150,000 dollars with Williams. For several years, they received monthly checks drawn on their investment that paid their mortgage. But in July 2014, Williams wrote the couple saying he’s going out of business, that they will no longer get any checks. But Williams never declared bankruptcy.

We interviewed Williams just days after we had talked to the Perkins in 2014. In our investigation we found reports mailed by Williams to clients like David and Lillian Robertson, who had invested about $150,000. Williams wrote there would be a moratorium on dividends — their money was being invested in another business. Federal investigators say that was a lie.

Read more: 6 Investigates Knoxville-based investment club whose members lost thousands

In his plea agreement, the government says to continue his fraud, Williams sent funds from victims to other victims in order to make it appear they were earning returns on their investments. In other words, Williams operated a Ponzi scheme.

Instead of investing victims’ funds, Williams used the money for personal living expenses, vehicle payments and vacations after transferring it to his own bank accounts.

Investigators found Williams filed false IRS forms and filed false income interest earnings that his clients were supposedly making.  

Jimmy Vineyard never got any of his money. He died two years ago.

Gerald and Judy Perkins eventually lost their home in Seymour. They moved out of the area in 2015.

Our investigation found that under federal regulations, Williams should have been a registered broker, but records show he never followed the rules.

More than 50 trusting people invested their money with Williams, after all he was a pastor, which he often reminded them. He even cheated members of his own church by diverting fake bonds for his personal benefit.

In court Thursday, Williams said he was “deeply sorry for all that had occurred” and that he was “ready to face his judgement.”

Federal Judge Pamela Reeves told Williams “there is no excuse for what you have done.”

She sentenced him to 63 months in prison and ordered him to pay more than $1.3 million in restitution to his victims.

Williams is now out on bond. He’ll begin serving his 63 month term in a few weeks at a federal prison in either Manchester or Lexington, Ky. Under federal guidelines, there’s no getting out of prison early for good behavior.  

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