Regina pastor ordered to pay back more than $12K collected in pyramid scheme
A Regina pastor has been ordered to repay more than $12,000 after a Saskatchewan court found he ran a pyramid scheme marketed as a fund to help people in need.
In a civil lawsuit decision, Jonnahs Amissih, the founder and pastor of I Am Center Church, was ordered to make the payments, including court costs, to three people involved in the program.
“The defendant deceived the plaintiffs by fraudulently misrepresenting the nature of the investment and the promise of significant returns,” Saskatchewan Provincial Court Judge Paul Demong said in his Aug. 31 ruling.
According to that Court documents recently posted onlineAmissih had organized what he called a “collective investment program” in which the three plaintiffs were invited to participate in the fall of 2020.
The program has been described as HOTO, or “helping others overcome.”
“Investors would bring money into the group and Mr. Amissih would create a series of ‘money circles’ (also referred to as ‘pyramids’ by Mr. Amissih in his testimony),” the decision reads.
The “money circles” would include a varying number of people, with each circle based on paying a specific amount, ranging from $100 to $2,500, the decision said.
Once the circle was filled, the first person to contribute to that circle would receive the entire contribution “free,” minus “an office fee, which had to be paid if the gift was affected,” the decision reads.
“Mr. Amissih explained that if you contributed $100, the return on the investment would be $700 within a week… if $2,000, then a return of $8,000 within two weeks; if $5,000, then $20,000 within two weeks,” it says.
All payments should be made in cash.
The three plaintiffs were a married couple, Emmanuel Amadi and Nelly Amadi, and Emmanuel’s brother Casmir Opara, who were included by the scheme.
“Each of them swears that Amissih-san guaranteed it would work — essentially guaranteeing a return within the stipulated timeframe,” Demong wrote in his decision.
Emmanuel Amadi said he made a total investment of $13,200 and had a total return of $4,920. Nelly Amadi said she contributed $900 but received no return at all, the decision said. Opara told the court he paid a total of $2,700 and received an $800 refund.
The three plaintiffs claimed that the guaranteed return on their investments did not materialize, and when attempts to get their money back were unsuccessful, they filed the lawsuit against Amissih.
Amissih argued that the payments are voluntary contributions to a fund dedicated to supporting members of the community. He also said that in December 2020 the “community” ran out of money “because there weren’t enough community members who stayed around after a gift; nor did they bring in enough new “members” to increase the seed capital needed to run the program. ‘ Demong wrote.
No one asked for receipts for their investments, Demong noted. He also noted that the plaintiffs’ failure to “conduct a more thorough investigation of the offering” showed that they were “careless in not exercising a minimum of due diligence before making their investments.”
However, he also wrote that he found that Amissih was “the driving force behind the HOTO community/pyramid scheme” and that he knew the plaintiffs could not be guaranteed a return on their investments in a week or two period .
He also noted that Amissih “used his authority as pastor of a church he founded to attract potential investors to the program.”
He wrote that he was “gratified that Mr. Amissih was actively involved in overseeing and participating in a pyramid scheme which included, among other things, paying him or his church a bribe equal to 10 percent of the proceeds of some of the gifts given.”
Demong’s decision awarded Emmanuel Amadi a total of $9,257.25, Nelly Amadi a total of $993.75 and Opara $2,097.92.