Less than two weeks later, on March 12th, Gerald Payne and six other Greater Ministries thieves were arrested in Tampa.
Payne was charged on a 20-count indictment that included criminal conspiracy, mail fraud and money laundering charges. Each of the conspiracy charges carried a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The others arrested were: Betty Payne, Don Hall, Patrick Henry Talbert, David Whitfield, Andrew Krishak and James Chambers.
The arrests made the national news. The mugshots of the accused, flashed on the evening news in all the states where they ripped people off, showed disheveled, ugly, mean faces. Payne wore a nasty scowl.
Prosecutors argued that Payne posed a danger to the community and should be denied bail. An IRS investigator, Frank DeRosa, testified at the bail hearing that Payne carried a gun in his boots and in his car glove compartment. He said that Payne did not disclose his perjury conviction when he applied for the concealed-weapons permit required.
(During the arrest, Payne was found to be unarmed. His wife, Betty, however, was handcuffed with a .25 caliber handgun in her purse.)
DeRosa also testified that Payne was a flight risk since he had access to multiple passports and bank accounts, including stashes of cash in the Cayman Islands, Europe and South Africa.
Six of the seven Greater Ministries defendants were bonded out right away by organization’s attorneys. Gerald Payne, however, stayed behind bars for six days before being granted a $150,000 bail.
The scheme was collapsing all around Payne at this point. Two weeks after getting released from jail, Payne was hit with a foreclosure lawsuit on Greater Ministries’ Bird Street headquarters. The suit said Greater Ministries hadn’t made a payment on its $773,033 balance since January.
Amazingly, Greater Ministries, faced with the complete meltdown of their pyramid of lies, and looking at decades in prison, continued to raise money.
Don Hall was videotaped following his arrest at another Greater Ministries fund raiser saying, somewhat desperately, “It’s not our money; it’s God’s. I have noting to hide. I have done nothin’ wrong.”
Patrick Talbert practically smirked when he told an audience after his arrest, “We don’t know that anyone’s lost any money in our program.”
Payne seemed to grow paranoid after his arrest. On videotape, Payne is shown addressing a group of Greater Ministries leaders. He told them his character assassination was part of the government’s prosecution.
“They did that to David Koresh in order to go ahead and kill 20 babies,” Payne said on the tape.
A series of articles in The Tampa Tribune painted an unsavory impression of those at the top of Greater Ministries. One article reported that at least five Greater Ministries officials had either criminal records, or civil judgments against them involving scams.
Even Don Hall was sounding shaky by this point.
“We give you double and triple and quadruple, depending on how much you give,” Hall told a southern Virginia audience in May, 1999. Hall’s comments were reported by the Harrisonburg Daily News-Record.
It was pouring rain all around Greater Ministries now.
On June 25th, 1999, one of Greater Ministries rehab centers, this one in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, was closed.
On that same day, the Anti-Defamation League named Greater Ministries a “hate group” based on its activities with Eidson and others in his movement.
Florida, Ohio, and Alabama securities regulators, on August 6th, 1999 jointly secured a federal injunction and a court-appointed receiver from U.S. District Judge Richard A. Lazzara.
Five days later, on August 11th, the Greater Ministries headquarters was seized by United States marshals. Payne and his accomplices were now locked out of their building.
When investigators and court-appointed receivers went through the building they found things that aren’t normally found in a church, including:
– two handguns and a loaded shotgun
– records showing Greater Ministries’ owned at least 100 cars and trucks.
– numerous incriminating videotapes of the road shows, and meetings of Payne’s inner circle
Surprisingly, considering the money that came through the place, only $41,000 in cash was found in the “church’s” vaults.
Perhaps the most unusual item found in the raid on the Greater Ministries headquarters was a 22-page prospectus discovered in Gerald Payne’s office.
The plan was titled “GreaterLands,” and it was a detailed outline for a planned “Christian community,” that would be run by Greater Ministries.
It was to be located on Greater Royal Island in the Bahamas. The proposal listed a $7 million price tag to buy the island.
Among the “Steps” to bring about the GreaterLands dream, was “Step 6: Import Filipinos.”
According to the plan, the Filipinos would fill the 30 positions of masons, electricians, carpenters, landscapers, and domestics necessary for life in the tropics.
Also in the Greater Lands outline was a list of weapons and ammunition that Payne felt necessary for his Christian sanctuary. Some of the items listed included:
– grenade launchers
– machine guns
– 50-caliber armor-piercing bullets
– sniper rifles
– surveillance balloons
– radar systems.
Investigators also learned that Greater Ministries representatives, within days after the March court actions, twice pursued a new homeland. A Greater Ministries official took an aerial tour of a Honduran island on March 18th, the day Payne was released from jail. The trip was captured on videotape.
A letter from Payne to Honduran President Carlos Flores, dated January 29th, 1999, was discovered. In the letter, Payne outlined his plan for Greater Ministries’ “proposed Christian state.” Payne, who signed the letter to Flores “as Ecclesiarch,” also gave himself the title of “prime minister pro tempore” of his new country, which he called, “Greaterlands of the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Greater Ministries International officially died with the whimper of a permanent injunction issued by a federal judge. On August 20th, 1999, Greater Ministries was put to sleep.
The scramble to try to recover some of the stolen money could now begin.
On August 26th, 1999, a court-appointed receiver filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for the assets of Greater Ministries. This was intended to check creditors trying to foreclose on Greater Ministries’ holdings.
The hotel owned by Greater Ministries, the Executive Inn in Owensboro, Kentucky, would be sold within two months.
In March of 2000, CNN, along with Time Magazine, ran a special on the Greater Ministries swindle.
In June, 2000, a federal bankruptcy judge gave control of about a dozen properties controlled by Greater Ministries to a court-appointed trustee. Among them was the home of Gerald Payne.
Payne and his co-defendants were scheduled to be tried July 31st, 2000, but due to motions and continuances the trial would not be held until January of 2001.
On November 3rd, 2000, one of Gerald Payne’s co-defendants, James Chambers, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud and to transport property taken by fraud across state lines.
Chambers agreed to cooperate in the prosecution of his six co-defendants. Chambers now faced a maximum sentence of five years in prison, a fine of $250,000 and restitution, instead of the 20 years he was looking at prior to his plea.
A month later, on November 30th, 2000, another Payne co-defendant, John Krishak, whose ‘territory’ included Lancaster County, Pennsylvania pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy. Krishak admitted to the Court that the Greater Ministries program was a fraud. Krishak, like Chambers, also now faced only a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Both agreed to assist the prosecution in their case against Payne and the others.