Man Sentenced To 52 Months In Prison For Swindling Churches And Business Owners Nationwide In Advance-Fee Fraud Scheme
CHICAGO — A man who victimized small businesses and churches nationwide, including three churches in Chicago, in a so-called “advance-fee” fraud scheme, was sentenced today to more than four years in federal prison after being convicted at trial last summer. Prosecutors said that the defendant, JAMAL E. LAWSON, Sr., “fleeced noble church pastors and hard-working businessmen” of more than $225,000 by repeatedly telling lies about his credentials, experience, and ability to obtain loans on their behalf. Over 18 months in 2009 and 2010, Lawson promised more than $650 million in loans to more than 30 victims and never funded a single loan.
Lawson, 44, of Duluth, Ga., and formerly of Dayton, Ohio, was sentenced to 52 months in prison and ordered to pay $227,252 in restitution by U.S. District Judge James Zagel. Lawson, who was convicted of three counts of mail fraud after a trial last August, was ordered to begin serving his sentence on March 31.
“The victim churches lost money obtained from parishioners, wasted their time and efforts dealing with [Lawson], and missed opportunities to pursue funding through other legitimate sources. In addition, the pastors and business owners suffered losses to their reputations and, in some case, suffered extreme hardships,” the government argued at sentencing.
In return for pledging to obtain loans, Lawson collected advance fees from his victims and used the money for personal expenses, such as travel, clothing, food, and cars, instead of securing the loans as he had promised. Additional churches and small businesses victimized by the scheme were located in Georgia, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, and Virginia.
As part of the scheme, Lawson offered to provide loans to pastors of churches and owners of small businesses through one of his companies: Evangel Capital Group LLC and Evangel Capital Partners Ltd., Ascendant Capital Partners LLC and Ascendant Commercial Mortgage, and Destiny Capital Group LLC and Destiny Capital Partners Ltd. Lawson advertised low-interest loans to churches and small businesses and, after receiving a loan application, advised the borrowers that his companies had approved loans in amounts ranging from approximately $300,000 to $206 million and that firm closing dates had been set. Lawson knew that he lacked the ability to fund the loans through his companies and he had not secured funding or closing dates from other outside lenders.
Lawson further told the borrowers that, before any loans would be disbursed, they were required to pay certain advance fees, in amounts ranging from approximately $1,250 to $35,000, that would be used to obtain appraisals, loan documents, title reports, and audited financial statements. Lawson directed the borrowers to pay the advance fees by mailing checks or transferring funds to accounts that he controlled.
Lawson told borrowers that he would refund their application fees if they did not receive the loans, knowing that he never intended to provide the actual loans. In Chicago, he defrauded a former west side branch of a Kankakee, Ill., church of $3,950 in fees for a purported $742,000 mortgage loan; a far south side church of $4,000 in fees to provide a mortgage loan of $1,546,000; and another far south side church of $3,950 in fees for a $3,045,000 mortgage loan.
The sentence was announced by Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and Tony Gómez, Inspector-in-Charge of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in Chicago.
The government was represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Christopher R. McFadden and Kathryn Malizia.