Three pastors charged in $8.6-million Ponzi scheme


Pastor Marlon Gary Hibbert, 49, and his wife Verna Michelle Hibbert, 48, face 38 fraud charges.

Three pastors face a combined 114 charges for allegedly swindling their flock out of millions of dollars.

Toronto Police allege the trio — a man, his wife and another woman — convinced more than 200 members of their congregation, as well as their family and friends, to hand over more than $8 million for a phoney investment scheme with promises of a huge return.

The scam cost many victims their life savings and some even lost their homes.

“They believed and trusted them,” Det. Gail Regan said Friday at a press conference at Toronto Police headquarters. “They still can’t believe (their pastors allegedly) did this to them.”

Marlon Gary Hibbert, 49, and his wife Verna Michelle Hibbert, 48, were arrested Thursday and each charged with 38 counts of fraud over $5,000.

Lorraine Bahlmann, 47, who worked as the couple’s administrative clerk, was arrested Friday and charged with 38 counts of fraud over $5,000.

All three were pastors at the Masonic Church of God — located at 1947 Queen St. E., in the Beach and 2400 Midland Ave. in Agincourt — when the alleged frauds occurred between 2005 and 2010.

Regan alleged members of the congregation were told Marlon Hibbert was “a successful trader in foreign currencies.” Those who invested — the minimum was $10,000 — were promised “a high rate of return” on their money, the Financial Crimes Unit investigator alleged, explaining victims were guaranteed 5% compounded monthly, 8.5% if they locked in for a year.

Victims began complaining to the Ontario Securities Commission in 2009, Regan said, adding the OSC determined Marlon Hibbert did do some trading overseas.

“But he never made any money,” she said. Regan said the Hibberts were living a “luxurious lifestyle” and some of the money was funnelled to Panama.

A forensic audit ordered by the OSC determined more than 200 people were scammed out of $8.6 million and about $4 million is still unaccounted for.

Regan said victims came forward to Toronto Police in January, prompting a probe by the Financial Crimes Unit.

So far they have identified 38 people who lost a total of $2.1 million, she said, adding there are many more victims who have not yet come forward.

No money has been recovered at this point.

The three accused no longer operate Masonic Church of God, Regan said. They currently run an independent ministry called The Life Centre Word of Faith Ministries, renting space from Our Lady of Fatima Catholic school on St. Clair Ave. E. near Victoria Park Ave.


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