The co-founder of the Church of the Healthy Self located in a strip mall in the Little Saigon area of Westminster, California has pleaded guilty in a $33 million fraud case.
Kent R.E. Whitney, 37, of Newport Beach, agreed on April 15 to plead guilty to mail fraud and filing a false income tax return, a federal prosecutor announced on April 17, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
Founded by Whitney and David Lee Parrish, the church was shut down last year after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed a complaint and had its assets frozen by a judge. The church’s targets appeared to be older Vietnamese people in the Westminster and San Jose areas.
In his plea agreement, Whitney said he scammed investors in a church trust fund from 2014 to 2019 by falsely claiming their money was safe and guaranteeing a high, tax-deductible return from their investment. However, much of the $33 million he received went to fund his lavish lifestyle.
The church’s co-founder directed its representatives to appear on television and at live seminars in order to solicit investments from the public, the Orange County Register reported.
Prosecutors said that Whitney only took some of the investor money and put it into trading accounts. He would also fake monthly statements claiming to outline nonexistent investment returns for investors.
Then, in 2018, Whitney only reported $17,539 of his income, which was less than the $452,872 he earned that year. Prosecutors believe the $435,333 came from the alleged fraud scheme.
The Church for the Healthy Self was founded in 2014, months after Whitney finished serving a 44-month prison sentence for a commodities investment fraud.
Feature Image Screenshot via Church for the Healthy Self