Faith-Ba$ed $cams

Con artists like to set up their investment fraud operations amid groups of  persons that are inclined to avoid rational inquiry and analysis.  It should not be surprising, therefore, that through the last few decades, as religious fanaticism has garnered considerable public attention in the United States, there was a virtual plague of such operations targeting those of faith.

Oil hustling and “biblical prophecy” may sound  to be improbable bedfellows, but they made for a hot and tainted love match for at least a generation.  In the last few decades multimillions of dollars were poured into penny-stock oil schemes lured by hustlers utilizing biblical passages that supposedly prophesized that great wealth lay hidden beneath the sands of Israel.  In addition a passage from the book of Ezekiel was cunningly interpreted that Armageddon will be triggered when a confederacy of nations attack Israel to “take a great spoil”—implying it meant oil—and spiritual craving and greed for material riches mated in frenzied fornication in the hearts of true believers.

Among the biblical references used by the oil hustlers have been verses from Deuteronomy 33 where Moses allegedly viewed the Holy Land from Mount Nebo and foretold the blessings that awaited Jacob’s  twelve sons.  The blessings alluded to “precious things” (verse 16) locked beneath the earth and “treasures hid in the sand” (verse 19); and in verse 24 it says “…let him (Asher, second son of Jacob and Zilpah, Leah’s maid) dip his foot in oil.”   This was just too good for con men to ignore, and here are a few who built upon these biblical gems.

In the 1960s a wealthy man in California, Wesly Hancock, confided to wide-eyed believers that he had dreamed that Jesus advised him that he would find black gold in the Holy Land.  Even the divinely inspired Pat Robertson praised Hancock saying that Hancock would tap into the “… largest oil field ever discovered.”  Uh-huh.  Those who answered the call to drill with Hancock lost all their investment.

In the 1990s a man named St. Clair, a deacon of an Illinois church, lured around sixty individuals to invest in oil wells.  The deacon falsely told them that two oil wells had been drilled and were already producing oil.  In truth no well had been ever been drilled.  The deacon raked in over a cool $8 million before he was exposed and sentenced to fifty-one months in jail. 

Between 1993 and 1999 a Florida-based church, Greater Ministries, had nearly 28,000 investors worldwide, all having been promised that their divinely inspired investments would double.  By the year 2000 Greater Ministries had taken in $578 million while the trusting church goers mortgaged their homes, maxed out their credit cards, or cashed in their retirement funds to invest—only to discover that they had been swindled by the church leaders. 

A number of the religiously inspired oil hustlers operated out of the state of Texas.  (Surprise!)  Among them was Harold Stephens, who drove up stock prices in his oil company, Ness, and collected $3.5 million by associating his Holy Land Oil venture with apocryphal prophecies.  The two companies that he recommended to believers in holy prophecy just happened to be owned by him, and the agreement that the believers signed stated, probably in smallest print, that only his companies would receive any profits if oil was ever found.  The investors, of course, never received a cent from Holy Land oil.

Is it sinful to question how fanatic believers in “holy word” can chase material riches and still believe that they represent a creditable balance with integrity or spiritual value?

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