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Ex-Pastor of California Church Gets 14 Years in Federal Prison for Defrauding Victims of $33 Million

The former pastor of an Orange County, California, church has been sentenced to 14 years in federal prison for defrauding investors of more than $33 million

Kent R.E. Whitney, 39, pleaded guilty in November 2020 to two counts of mail fraud and filing a false federal income tax return. He was sentenced Sept. 24. He was also ordered to pay $22,662,668 in restitution. 

Whitney was convicted of filing a tax return that showed his total income for 2018 as $17,539, when it was at least $452,872, of which approximately $435,333 was obtained via fraud, the California State District Attorney’s Office said.

From 2014 to 2019, Whitney operated the nonprofit Church of the Healthy Self and a related entity, CHS Asset Management, Inc. from a strip mall in Westminster, California. Whitney claimed to be pastor of the church. 

Prosecutors from the State District Attorney’s Office said CHS employees appeared on television and at live seminars under Whitney’s direction seeking investors for the CHS Trust, which they represented as an investment arm of the church. The seminars were sometimes recorded and posted on YouTube, officials said. 

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The representatives told potential investors the trust guaranteed an annual rate of return of 12 percent and that their principal would be returned at no risk because it was federally insured. They also falsely claimed the traders CHS used had not lost money in 15 years, that the trust’s worst return in the previous five years had been a 1.5 percent profit, and that the trust was audited by accounting firm KPMG.

Victims invested more than $33 million with CHS from 2014 to 2019 and were sent falsified monthly statements showing investment returns. Whitney also made approximately $11 million in “Ponzi-type” payments using money from later victims to pay earlier investors, prosecutors said. 

The FBI, IRS Criminal Investigation, and the Securities and Exchange Commission were all involved in the investigation. 

Anne Stych

Anne Stych is a writer in Charlotte, North Carolina.