Judge rejects plea agreement for East Tennessee preacher in Ponzi scheme

Roger Williams leaves U.S. Federal Court on March 6, 2016

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – The former president of a Knoxville-area investment company walked out of federal court Monday with 14 days to decide whether he wants to withdraw his guilty plea entered in court in November.

The government claimed Roger Williams “misrepresented the earnings” on his client’s investments with Dash Holdings and Open Door Investment. Williams pleaded guilty to mail fraud, money laundering and obstruction of federal taxes. He could have received 20 years in prison but agreed to enter a plea deal of 51 months.

Previous story: East Tennessee preacher pleads guilty to money laundering, fraud

Don Dare talks with Roger Williams in July 2014

However, at the federal courthouse, U.S. District Judge Pamela Reeves stunned everyone when she said felt the scope of the fraudulent scheme demanded more than 51 months. She gave Williams 14 days to decide whether he wants to either withdraw his guilty plea agreement of 51 months, pay restitution to his victims and face a jury trial or accept whatever sentence she may impose, which will likely be more than 51 months.

“I am distressed and not at all happy with the government’s recommendation of 51 months in prison and restitution to the victims who invested over a million dollars in Roger Williams’ Dash Holdings and Oper Door Investment business,” said Judge Reeves in court.

Williams’ victims said privately that they, too, want to see a longer sentence. Neither Williams nor his attorney spoke to WATE 6 On Your Side as they left court Monday. If Williams decides on a jury trial and is found guilty, he could face up to 20 years in prison.

Nearly a hundred people once trusted Williams with investing their money — after all, he was a pastor at this church in Gatlinburg as he often reminded them. For a few years, some received dividends on the investments. In 2011, however, the flow of money began to slow, a few years later the returns stopped and investors grew suspicious.

David and Lillian Roberts talk to WATE 6 On Your Side Investigator Don Dare in June 2014.

David and Lillian Robertson first contacted WATE 6 On Your Side in 2014 about Williams. The Seymour couple lost about $150,000 in their investments.

WATE 6 On Your Side’s investigation uncovered irregularities. For instance, Williams was the sole investor of Dash Holdings. He was the only person who audited his books and he was not federally accredited, according to government records.

Jimmy Vineyard lost over $400,000 in his investment with Williams. Vineyard died a year ago, eight months before Williams’ guilty plea to money laundering.

Gerald Perkins talked with WATE 6 On Your Side in the summer of 2014 when he lived in Seymour with his wife Judy. They’ve since lost their house.

The Perkins invested $150,000 in retirement money with Williams. For a while they received returns that paid the mortgage on their home, then the checks stopped. Williams sent the couple a letter in July 2014 saying their investments had dried up.

“All the investment we had in building up the business has pretty much gone away,” said Williams in an interview with WATE 6 On Your Side just days after sending the letter and declaring bankruptcy.

Letter sent to some investors

The letter was sent to some investors, but not all. Williams once had his company office in this Shelbyville, Kentucky home. He moved in 2011 to Louisville, when he became a franchise owner with Trade Bank — a barter business.

Two and a half years later, Williams told WATE 6 On Your Side Trade Bank had “gone out of business or was going out of business,” but that was not truth.

John Davis

John Davis, who has operated Trade Bank until he retired last year said Trade Bank remains a robust business. He said Davis fired Williams and took away his franchise more than three years ago due to unethical behavior.

“I think it is a shame that someone masquerading as a pastor of a church is someone that’s got a tremendous amount of trust placed in him and that trust has been abused to embezzle a number of people,” said Davis.

The government’s investigation says Williams issued false IRS forms, committed money laundering by unlawfully transferring financial transaction and mail fraud by sending false reports about the investments. Their investigation revealed Williams investments were a Ponzi scheme and that he used newly invested funds from people like Jimmy Vineyard to pay other investors, pretending the money was returns on their investments.

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