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Florida Man Sentenced to 7 Years in Prison for Defrauding Churches and Pastors

A Florida man has been sentenced to more than seven years in prison for defrauding pastors, churches, and other victims in West Virginia of more than $5 million by portraying himself as an investment advisor then spending the investment money victims had given him.

Phillip W. Conley, 38, of Jacksonville, Florida, was indicted by a federal grand jury in August 2020 on six counts of mail fraud and one count of securities fraud. He pleaded guilty earlier this year to one count of securities fraud.

In addition to the 87-month prison sentence, Conley was ordered to forfeit any property purchased with the proceeds of the crime and to pay a $4.8 million judgment.

Conley obtained $5.2 million to invest from 18 victims, according to the U.S. District Attorney’s Office of Northern West Virginia. including churches in Charleston, Parkersburg, and Morgantown, as well as pastors, small-business owners, and members of his family. He returned only about $210,000 of the money, spending the rest on private jet flights, expensive meals, clothes, jewelry, housing, and living expenses.

“Mr. Conley lived a luxurious life, but in reality, lined his pockets by orchestrating a multi-million-dollar fraud scheme that took money from his own family members and other victims,” said FBI Pittsburgh Special Agent in Charge Mike Nordwall. “His victims trusted him to safeguard their money and he betrayed their trust. Today’s sentence sends the message that he can’t escape accountability for his actions.”

Conley lost his broker’s license in 2015 but continued to accept funds from investors, forming a company called ALPAX LLC, the Times West Virginian reported. Victims were told they were investing in enterprises, including student housing, mineral rights, and high-yield securities.

Conley provided victims with false dividend statements claiming a positive rate of return for the bogus investments, giving them a false sense of security about their investments.

“Securities fraud is a terrible crime and often has a devastating impact,” said U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld. “Mr. Conley was very persuasive and groomed his victims, convincing them that these were legitimate investment opportunities. Unfortunately, it was a scam in which Conley robbed investors of their life savings.”

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Anne Stych

Anne Stych is a writer in Charlotte, North Carolina.