The Securities and Exchange Commission has charged a self-described “Social Capitalist” with running a Ponzi scheme that targeted socially-conscious investors in church congregations.
The SEC alleges that Ephren W Taylor II made numerous false statements to lure investors into two investment programs being offered through City Capital Corporation, where he was the CEO. Instead of investor money going to charitable causes and economically disadvantaged businesses as promised, Taylor secretly diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars to publishing and promoting his books, hiring consultants to refine his public image, and funding his wife’s singing career.
The SEC also charged City Capital and its former chief operating officer Wendy Connor, who lives in North Carolina and along with Taylor received hundreds of thousands of dollars from investors in salary and commissions.
“Ephren Taylor professed to be in the business of socially-conscious investing. Instead, he was in the business of promoting Ephren Taylor,” says David Woodcock, Director of the SEC’s Fort Worth Regional Office. “He preyed upon investors’ faith and their desire to help others, convincing them that they could earn healthy returns while also helping their communities.”
According to the SEC’s complaint filed in federal court in Atlanta, Taylor strenuously cultivated an image of a highly successful and socially conscious entrepreneur. He marketed himself as “The Social Capitalist” and touted that he was the youngest black CEO of a public company and the son of a Christian minister who understands the importance of giving back. He authored three books and appeared on national television programs, and promoted his investment opportunities through live presentations, Internet advertisements, and radio ads. For instance, Taylor conducted a multi-city “Building Wealth Tour” during which he spoke to church congregations including Atlanta’s New Birth Church and at various wealth management seminars.
The SEC alleges that Taylor and City Capital offered two primary investments: promissory notes supposedly funding various small businesses, and interests in “sweepstakes” machines. In addition to promising high rates of return, Taylor assured investors that he had a long track record of success and that investor funds would be used to support businesses in economically disadvantaged areas. A portion of profits were to go to charity. Taylor devoted considerable time to denigrating traditional investment vehicles such as CDs, mutual funds, and the stock market, labelling them as “foolish” and “money losers.” He told audiences they could make far greater returns using their self-directed IRAs for investments in small businesses and sweepstakes machines offered by City Capital.
In reality, according to the SEC’s complaint, more than USD11 million that Taylor and City Capital raised from hundreds of investors nationwide from 2008 to 2010 was instead used to operate the Ponzi scheme. Investor money was misused to pay other investors, finance Taylor’s personal expenses, and fund City Capital’s payroll, rent, and other costs. City Capital’s business ventures were consistently unprofitable, and no meaningful amounts of investor money were ever sent to charities.
The SEC’s complaint seeks disgorgement, financial penalties and permanent injunctive relief against City Capital, Taylor, and Connor as well as officer and director bars against Taylor and Connor.