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Fake Pastor Gets 14 Years for Using Church as Front to Steal $33M From Vietnamese Community

Kent Whitney, a convicted conman who started a church for fraudulent purposes right after leaving prison, has been sentenced to 14 years for his latest crimes.

The U.S. Justice Department revealed in a notice on September 24:

​​Kent R.E. Whitney, 39, formerly of Newport Beach but who currently resides in Northern California, was sentenced by United States District Judge Josephine L. Staton, who also ordered him to pay $22,662,668 in restitution….

From September 2014 to April 2019, Whitney schemed to defraud investors through the Church of the Healthy Self (CHS), a non-profit corporation, and its related entities, including CHS Asset Management, Inc. Whitney founded these entities, operated them out of a strip mall in Westminster, and claimed to be the pastor of CHS.

Whitney’s “church-based investment scam … took in more than $33 million” from would-be investors, according to the notice. He also cheated the IRS out of $130,808 by falsely claiming that he made $17,539 in one year, when he actually pocketed more than $435,000.

Whitney, who is listed as “Pastor Dr. Kent Whitney” on the church website, pleaded guilty to the charges of mail fraud and filing a false federal income tax return in November 2020.

Whitney’s religious operation was registered as a nonprofit corporation in Texas but also operated in California, where he targeted members of the Vietnamese community in Orange County, according to KTLA news.

His virtual church reportedly “provided religious offerings online but mainly served as an investment operation.” Some of the virtual church activities involved Whitley encouraging members to send in prayer requests, as seen in some of his YouTube videos.

The Church of the Healthy Self’s “what we believe” web page states it is “dedicated to enabling people to find and use their faith to better there life’s [sic] and become WELL, POWERFUL, STRONG and INFLUENTIAL though the Bible and the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

It appears Whitney created content for the website in a single day, September 14, in about an hour and a half. He also may have borrowed content from legitimate churches also hosted by Google Sites and using a similar template. For example, Church of the Healthy Self’s online photo gallery features images that also appear on the site of Mount Zion Evangelical Ministry, a church based in Nigeria.

The fake pastor launched his Church of the Healthy Self scam just three months after completing a prison sentence for a commodities investment fraud, according to a complaint filed by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. David Lee Parrish, also described as a pastor of the church, was named as co-defendant with Whitney in this latest federal case.

On his LinkedIn page, Whitney lists his prior legitimate financial work along with his position as “pastor [and] president” of the Church for the Healthy Self.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated.

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Faithfully Magazine is a fresh, bold and exciting news and culture publication that covers issues, conversations and events impacting Christian communities of color.


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