Houston-based pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell, a former spiritual adviser to President George W. Bush who delivered the benediction at his inauguration and presided over Jenna Bush Hager‘s wedding, has been sentenced to six years in prison as a result of his role in a massive fraud scheme.
Caldwell was the pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church when, in 2013, he used his influence to acquire $3.5 million in investments for “historical Chinese bonds” that had no real value. He told investors they could see returns that were 15 times higher than what they were investing despite knowing that wasn’t true. Even when that became clear to everyone Caldwell insisted they needed to “remain faithful.”
The funds were then divided between Smith, Caldwell, and others. Caldwell personally received approximately $900,000. Caldwell used a portion of that money to pay down debt including personal loans, mortgages, and credit cards and maintain his lifestyle, among other things. The investors were told their funds were used to purchase bonds and pay for expenses incurred from selling or redeeming the bonds.
As time passed and victim-investors questioned why they had yet to receive the promised returns, Caldwell and Smith, through texts and emails, offered excuses as to why the deals had not yet closed, defended the legitimacy of the deals, and assured the investors that they would receive their promised returns. The victim-investors never received returns from these Chinese bonds.
He was eventually charged and convicted for conspiracy to commit wire fraud. He was forced to pay back $3,588,500 in restitution on top of a $125,000 fine. (He should be grateful. He was facing a million-dollar fine and up to 30 years in prison.)
It’s a colossal fall from grace for someone who built his church from the ground up, leading a congregation that eventually numbered around 16,000 people.
Perhaps making matters worse, his former church described Caldwell as a victim rather than a perpetrator, saying he himself had invested in those bonds and simply “chose the wrong business partners,” implying he meant well when he urged others to invest the same way. There’s no reason to think that’s true.
How can anyone take this church seriously when even its members refuse to accept their leader’s crimes?