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The Lyin’ King: Gerald Payne and the Greater Ministries International $500 Million Fraud

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There were others who had key roles in Payne’s Ponzi production.

Jonathan Strawder was a regular on the Greater Ministries traveling revue. Strawder, a tall, dark-haired, good-looking 25-year-old was brought into the scheme by an uncle who knew Payne at the beginning of Greater Ministries.

Like the rest of the team, Strawder lacked scruples. In 1997, Strawder spun off his own little scheme, creatively called Sovereign Ministries International. In that role, Strawder stole $13 million from about 2,100 investors.

After splurging on a yacht, a couple of Porsches and other expensive toys, Strawder stopped paying his investors. He was sued, and later signed a plea agreement admitting Sovereign Ministries was a Ponzi operation. Part of the plea bargain was Strawder agreeing to provide testimony against Greater Ministries.

Niko Shefer’s role was as Greater Ministries’ overseas officer. It was Shefer, a beefy, bearded Israeli-born South African who served six years in prison for bank fraud, who was said to be overseeing Greater Ministries’ African mining interests. The photographs of the mining equipment bought by Greater Ministries, with Payne and Shefer proudly standing next to bulldozers at what appear to be an African mining site were powerful selling tools back in the states.

The owner of the bank with whom Greater Ministries chose to deposit its followers’ money was fittingly disreputable. Edward Mattar controlled Best Bank in Boulder, Colorado. Best Bank not only received Greater Ministries money “gifts,” it also issued its credit cards.

Mattar, according to the Rocky Mountain News, had “a long history of financial recklessness.”

By the mid-1990s, Mattar has been sued for hundreds of thousands of dollars for various financial transactions. Mattar owned several private schools that wound up owing money to debtors and students.

In 1998, shortly before Best Bank was closed by state regulators, Mattar paid himself and his bank president a $9 million bonus.

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