Greater Ministries payments to investors lasted a couple of months, then stopped entirely.
The pyramid was now collapsing.
Payne and his Greater Ministries cronies told their audiences that “Faith Promises,” instead of cash interest payments, would return certificates backed by the (nonexistent) gold and silver mines Greater Ministries was mining in Liberia. Dollars would no longer be remitted.
“God is still blessing us greatly and more provisions are seen each day,” read an enclosure with the promissory certificates.
The states of Ohio and California joined Pennsylvania in issuing cease-and-desist orders against Greater Ministries in August and September of 1998, respectively. Ohio’s order specifically named Gerald and Betty Payne, Don and Brenda Hall and Patrick Henry Talbert. Brenda Hall, a hairspray blonde, played keyboard on the traveling roadshows with her husband.
On November 2nd, 1998, Pennsylvania Judge Eunice Ross issued a permanent injunction barring Greater Ministries from any financial activity with state residents. Judge Ross also ordered Greater Ministries to return all money collected from Pennsylvania investors.
In Bakersfield, California, on November 28th, police arrested two Greater Ministries representatives Don and Jeana Muir, for selling unregistered securities in violation of the state ban against the organization. The couple pled no contest a month later, and were sentenced to probation.
On December 14th, David Whitfield, Greater Ministries’ finance director, sent letters to investors indicating monthly payments were being discontinued.
In early 1999, after the collapse of Best Bank in Colorado, two Greater Ministries officers, Charles Tomlinson and Carl Thomas, tried to buy a South Florida bank. Their application was denied by state regulators.
Despite these major setbacks in their operation, Gerald Payne and his craven cohorts continued on with their theft.
Payne was videotaped during a Greater Ministries meeting after the collapse of Best Bank. “I ask that you get in the plan and get in it with great gusto,” he drawled.
At another meeting, Hall said to an audience: “If you give up on us now, our going to lose in the end when God really blesses us.”
One of the most amazing things about the Greater Ministries scam is that Payne and his band kept returning to states where they were explicitly told not to do so. Payne and Hall returned at least twice to Pennsylvania after Judge Ross’ two injunctions.
Payne told his audiences that his religious convictions prohibited him from obeying any law not written by Jesus Christ. He attacked officials, saying the government was infringing on his First Amendment rights to the free exercise of religion. Payne claimed that his ministry was immune to the laws of civil government.
Patrick Talbert , still raising money, said to an Indianapolis audience that the government was after Greater Ministries, “We’re tired of Christians being pushed around.”
Unknown to Payne, on December 15th, 1998, Jonathan Strawder, a former Greater Ministries swindler, entered a plea agreement with state prosecutors acknowledging his role in a “knockoff” program called Sovereign Ministries International. Sovereign stole more than $13 million from about 2,000 people during 1997. Part of Strawder’s plea was to provide information about Greater Ministries.
On November 2nd, 1998, Pennsylvania judge Eunice Ross threatened Payne and other leaders of Greater Ministries with jail if they had any contact with any Pennsylvania residents regarding investment. Ross ordered that Greater Ministries International Church must shut down completely in Pennsylvania.
After learning that Payne had violated her injunction, on January 20th, 1999, Judge Ross found Payne to be in “willful violation and contempt” of her November 2nd order barring Greater Ministries from doing business in the state. Ross announced she would assess fines on March 1st, 1999.
The fines could have reached millions of dollars. Ross indicated she could fine Greater Ministries $5,000 for each Pennsylvanian contacted after the November injunction. At least 700 people attended the November 21st meeting in Lebanon. That would constitute 700 individual violations.
Judge Ross gave Payne two requirements for remaining free. He had to stand in Court on March 1st , and promise to abide by her injunctions barring Greater Ministries from any financial transaction with state residents. Payne also had to provide proof Greater Ministries refunded all money invested by Pennsylvania citizens. If those conditions were not met on March 1st, Ross said she’d jail Payne for up to six months.
1999, Ross fined Payne $6.4 million for failing to refund the money.