Jury selection for the Greater Ministries defendants, now five – Gerald Payne; Betty Payne; Haywood “Don” Hall; David Whitfield; and Patrick Henry Talbert — began on January 8, 2001.
The trial began on January 23rd.
The six-week trial revealed damning evidence against the defendants. The most damaging were videotapes played in court that showed the defendants making specific promises about doubling investments. There were payment schedules, and evidence that the defendants tried to hide their own profits.
That prosecution showed a six-hour composite video of solicitations in court that virtually convicted the defendants.
“Gerald Payne and the Elders appealed to people’s religious beliefs and they appealed to their greed,” said Assistant U.S. attorney Jay Hoffer. “This plan, program or scheme was about misrepresentation, greed and fraud.”
Gerald Payne’s son, Michael, testified under immunity. Michael Payne described his father as a manipulator who appealed to people’s base instincts, while running what amounted to a cult.
“They are very thorough at brainwashing people and brainwashing the followers. They are able to convince people that God, in the Bible, tells them that what they are doing is right,” Michael Payne said from the witness stand.
The Tampa Tribune reported that Michael Payne went to federal investigators days after quitting Greater Ministries in 1996. At that time he secured immunity for his testimony.
“If my son turned out like that I’d hope somebody would have the decency to put a bullet in my head,” said Ron Smith, Gerald Payne’s attorney, to reporters after Michael Payne’s testimony.
The defendants asserted innocence.
“This was no scheme,” Payne said in court papers, “but a true Christian program of the church, which, through divine guidance, was able to bless people who donated funds approximately twice the amount.”
On March 12th, 2001, after three days of deliberation, the jury handed down guilty verdicts on 72 counts of conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering and unlawful monetary transactions against the five defendants.
Gerald Payne was convicted on 19 of 19 felony charges. Betty Payne, Patrick Talbert and David Whitfield faced 16 counts each, and were convicted on 16 counts each.
Only the loose-tongued prancing preacher, Don Hall, won some acquittals. Hall was found guilty on three counts of mail fraud, and two counts of conspiracy, and not guilty on 11 counts.
Each of the defendants was ordered jailed until sentencing.
“This is one of the largest Ponzi-type schemes ever investigated,” said IRS spokesman Dave Burris after the verdicts.
Immediately after the verdict, the judge ordered the thieves jailed to await sentencing.
At the sentencing hearing in August of 2001, Gerald Payne, now 65 years-old, received 27 years in prison. His wife, Betty, got 13. Don Hall was sentenced to 15 years. Patrick Talbert and David Whitfield would receive 19 ½ and 19 years, respectively..
Speaking to the now-convicted felon, U.S. District Judge James Whittemore, looked down at Gerald Payne and said bitterly,
“The fact that you used the world of God to perpetuate a fraud is absolutely despicable.”
The Lyin’ King’s reign had ended.
(written by Christiaan A. Hart Nibbrig. All rights reserved by author.)