Calling it “God’s blessings,” the pastor of a suburban West Palm Beach church on Thursday refused to turn over $1.7 million that financial regulators claim rightfully belongs to people who were ensnared in a $30 million Ponzi scheme.
A federal judge has temporarily frozen the accounts of Winners Church and its top pastors, Fred and Whitney Shipman. In an unusual move, the father and son leaders of the 25-year-old Jog Road church are fighting efforts that would allow the money to be returned to hundreds of people who were lured into a far-flung diamond and bitcoin investment scam.
“It’s going to have a ripple effect in everything we do from this point on,” Bishop Fred Shipman told U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenberg, explaining the effects of returning the money it received from one of the church’s directors who was involved in the scheme. “I don’t think it’s fair.”
Amie Berlin, an attorney for the Securities and Exchange Commission, shot back: “Do you think it’s fair that people stole other people’s money and gave it to the church, and they’re not going to get it back?”
“I don’t think that’s fair,” Shipman admitted.
Berlin isn’t claiming the 3,000-member church or the pastors were involved in the multilayered Ponzi scheme that she says was orchestrated by former church director Jose Aman and prominent Canadian financial commentator Harold Seigel. His son, Jonathan Seigel, was also involved in the scam that operated from offices on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach, regulators claim.
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