East Tennessee preacher pleads guilty to money laundering, fraud

Roger Williams
Roger Williams

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – An East Tennessee preacher is heading to prison after admitting he operated fraudulent investment ventures.

In Knoxville Monday, Roger Williams pleaded guilty to money laundering, mail fraud and obstruction of federal taxes.

In an 11 page agreement, Williams waived his right to plead not guilty, waived his right to a trial, and all other rights. He agreed to 51 months in federal prison. He could have received 20 years for the charge of fraudulently using his client’s  money. Formal sentencing will be in four months.

Williams agreed to pay restitution to his victims. The agreement estimated he cost investors over a million dollars in what the federal government is calling a Ponzi scheme.

WATE 6 On Your Side investigator Don Dare first reported on Williams in the summer of 2014. Williams was preacher at a church near Gatlinburg for 11 years and has been the soul operator of investment ventures for 15 years.

In July 2014, Jimmy Vineyard told WATE 6 On Your Side he had put money into Williams’ Dash Holdings and Open Door Investment. With a lure of 15 percent growth yearly promised by Williams.

Vineyard had over $400,000 invested in the ventures. However, when his wife, Ellen, became ill, Vineyard said he asked Williams for the money he had invested and was told there was not any to withdraw and his entire life’s savings were gone.

Judy and Gerald Perkins also invested close to $150,000 with Williams. For several years they received monthly checks drawn on their investment that paid their mortgage, but in July 2014 Williams wrote the couple saying he was going out of business and they would no longer get any checks.

“It’s our money, my husband worked for that and it was his retirement,” said Judy Perkins.

Reports sent by Williams to clients said there would be a moratorium on dividends, because their money was being invested in another business which the government says was fraudulent.

“The franchise investment we had with them dried up,” said Williams, when WATE 6 On Your Side confronted him two years ago and asked him about customers like Vineyard and the Perkins.

A WATE 6 On Your Side investigation found that under federal regulations, Williams should have been a registered broker, but records show he didn’t follow the rules. David Lewis one of this area’s top investment professionals says the ventures Williams operated had no independent party looking over his shoulder as required.

“Ponzi schemes and most scams where the person selling the investment says give me the money, I’ll take care of everything,” said Lewis.

The government’s investigation says Williams issued false IRS forms, committed money laundering by unlawfully transferring financial transactions, and mail fraud by sending false reports about investments. With no more monthly checks from Williams, the Perkins had to sell their home in May 2015. Vineyard, who died in March lost the most money to Williams fraudulent schemes.

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