Whether because of greed, carelessness, or something else, Gerald Payne and Greater Ministries drew the attention of the authorities almost as soon as they incorporated.
The IRS first took notice of Payne in 1994 after learning he had cashed $1.5 million in checks in increments of less than $10,000 to avoid federal reporting laws. Such activity is known as “structuring” and is often used in money laundering.
Another move that caught the attention of the IRS was a $18,000 cash out of a bank. The IRS investigator, Angelo Troncoso thought, “What does a church need with $18,000 in cash?’ That was a big red flag right there.”
Greater Ministries was taking in millions of dollars every month.
The Florida Comptroller’s office began investigating Greater Ministries in the spring of 1995. The Comptroller’s office brought their findings to the U.S. Attorney in the region. The feds now opened their own investigation into Greater Ministries.
The Tampa Tribune reported on June 28th, 1995, that state prosecutors were granted permission by the Court to examine Greater Minsistries’ books.
Things were starting to come apart in other areas of Greater Ministries operation. On July 4th, 1995, The Tampa Tribune, which was clearly focusing on the “church’s” activities, reported that one of Greater Ministries’ rehab centers was cited for a zoning violation. The paper noted that another of the church’s center had been recently condemned. It seemed Pastor Payne’s energies were directed elsewhere.
When, in late September, the state of Florida securities commission issued a cease-and-desist order for selling unregistered securities, that’s when Payne shrugged and changed the name of the program to “Faith Promises.”
The Florida investigation brought Greater Ministries’ activities to the attention of regulators in the Keystone State. In July1995, Pennsylvania regulators issued the first of two cease-and-desist orders against Greater Ministries for selling unregistered securities.
During this period Greater Ministries was making crazy money. Investigators found that Payne personally withdrew $50,000 cash from his Colorado bank account at least four times between December 8th, 1995, and January 2nd, 1996.
On July 14th, 1996, Greater Ministries reported that its Tampa headquarters had been robbed. At first, Payne’s wife, Betty, allegedly told police that nothing had been stolen. She later said, after being corrected by her husband, that $500,000 was missing.
Gerald Payne later claimed Greater Ministries had lost $3.5 million.
The Tampa Tribune reported that police said a guard told them that the Paynes had taken all the money in the vault home before the robbery.
“We have our suspicions as to what really happened,” Sgt. Bob Wright was quoted in The Tampa Tribune. Sgt. Wright didn’t elaborate on his suspicions.
No one from Greater Ministries was ever charged with the robbery.
On April 28th, 1997, Greater Ministries, along with Charles Eidson and the Church of the Avenger, filed a federal lawsuit against The Tampa Tribune, Lancaster (Pa) Intelligencer Journal and Owensboro (Ky),Messenger Inquirer for $10 billion, (billion with a ‘b.’)
Payne and Eidson charged the papers with “an all out attack on the mere existence of Christianity in America.” A federal judge dismissed the suit in October, 1997.
Payne also sued the federal government for seizing a cache of $26,000 in undeclared gold and silver coins in his possession when he entered the country in December, 1997. It was later revealed that customs agents also seized 26 bestiality videotapes from Payne’s luggage in Atlanta.
Greater Ministries continued its touring of the country rounding up new investors. Meetings around the country still drew hundreds of people, mesmerized by firsthand accounts of cash-filled envelopes.
The problem was that the cash that Greater Ministries said was being deposited into the Bank of Nauru really was being sent to Best Bank in Colorado.
When Colorado state regulators declared Best Bank insolvent in July 1998, deposits above $100,000 were lost. For Greater Ministries, about $20 million vanished in a moment.
This was a mortal blow to the Greater Ministries scheme. Twenty million in cash gone.
Andrew Krishak, the Greater Ministries’ lead singer, told people the lost $20 million was just the church’s “petty cash fund.” It wasn’t.
Payne explained the Best Bank collapse in conspiratorial terms, saying their funds had been illegally seized. He announced that Greater Ministries would begin operating the program on a strictly cash basis. Payne told investors to empty accounts and cash out certificates, warning “get out of the world’s banking system as quickly as possible before the computer meltdown in 2000.”