SHREVEPORT, La. – The former pastor of a Texas megachurch and former spiritual adviser to two U.S. presidents was sentenced Wednesday to six years in federal prison for selling roughly $3.5 million in worthless Chinese bonds.
Kirbyjon H. Caldwell, the former senior pastor of the 14,000-member Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, pleaded guilty in March to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. He was sentenced in Shreveport, Louisiana, where he and co-defendant Gregory A. Smith were indicted in 2018, CBS DFW reported.
Caldwell, who earned his master’s degree from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and had worked in the financial industry, also served as a spiritual adviser to Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the TV station reported.
Caldwell’s sentence also includes one year of supervised release, and he was ordered to pay about $3.5 million in restitution and a $125,000 fine, The New York Times reported.
According to federal prosecutors, Caldwell and Smith, a Shreveport-based investment adviser, duped an undisclosed number of people into investing about $3.5 million in historical Chinese bonds, beginning in 2013. Smith received the same six-year sentence in November.
The bonds were reportedly issued by the former Republic of China but lost their value when Mao Zedong’s Chinese Communist Party took control of the government in 1949, CBS DFW reported.
In a statement, Acting U.S. Attorney Alexander Van Hook said that Caldwell “used his status as the pastor of a mega-church to help convince the many victim investors that they were making a legitimate investment, but instead he took their hard-earned money from them and used it for his own personal gain.”
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Caldwell used an estimated $900,000 he netted from the scheme to pay down credit card debt and mortgages while maintaining his lifestyle.
Meanwhile, the Times reported that Caldwell, who first befriended Bush during his term as Texas governor, “spoke at the Republican National Convention in 2000, delivered the benediction at Mr. Bush’s second inauguration in 2005 and was an early supporter of Mr. Bush’s initiative to give religious groups a greater role in the delivery of social services.”
The minister also supported Obama when he ran for president in 2008, served on a task force that advised the president on fatherhood and “healthy family” initatives and was “part of a small circle of Christian pastors” known to pray with him both in person and via telephone, the Times reported.
Van Hook also noted in his statement that both defendants “abused the trust that the victims had placed in them,” but stressed that Caldwell “used his status as the pastor of a megachurch to help convince the many victim investors that they were making a legitimate investment, but instead he took their hard-earned money from them and used it for his own personal gain.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.