Pop and gospel performer Michael Winans, Jr. (pictured) was sentenced to 13 years for running an $8 million Ponzi scheme, The Detroit Free Press reports. He was also ordered to pay his victims–some 1,200 investors–$4.8 million in restitution.
Winans, who is a member of the renowned Winans family gospel music dynasty, pleaded guilty to defrauding investors out of $8 million in U.S. federal court last October. The 30-year-old was named as the operator of the Winans Foundation Trust, which represented itself as a business entity that invested in crude oil bonds in Saudi Arabia.
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Winans reportedly enlisted the help of 11 people to invest in the crude oil bonds and ordered them to solicit outside investments. The gospel entertainer guaranteed his contributors hefty monetary returns of anywhere from $1,000 to $8,000 within a 60 day period. Instead of paying off his investors, he lined his own pockets.
While Winans said in court that he made some “mistakes,” prosecutors argued his intentions were purely criminal in nature.
The Free Press has more:
Winans took advantage of “good, decent, church-going people,” said Judge Cox in U.S. District Court before sentencing him. “That is very, very troubling to me…You used…churches to perpetuate this fraud.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Abed Hammoud said of Winans: “He used religion. He used the church, the good reputation of the family,” to rob victims.
Winans pled guilty in October to wire fraud. Prosecutors said in court filings that “he clearly abused the fact that he came from a very well known family with a good reputation in order to induce people to invest with him.”
Dressed in a gray suit, Winans addressed the court today, acknowledging that “I did make mistakes.”
I caused “financial and emotional damage. For that I repent,” Winans told the judge.
But, he claimed, there was no “malicious intent on my part…I wanted people to have a good life.”
His scheme did the direct opposite. People tricked by Winans convinced family members to pay into the scheme. Homes and college tuition money were lost. Tina Hurt, one of his victims, said that many marriages and relationships have been destroyed because of Winans.
“We’ve experience turmoil,” she said.
Calvin Jackson Jr., another victim, said he received death threats. “I trusted him,” he said. “I confided a lot in him.”
But despite what Winans did to him, Jackson said that he had to forgive him. “I feel so bad for him,” he said. “I feel so bad for us.”