Federal Officials Charge that Florida-Based, Antigovernment Greater Ministries is Actually a Criminal Fraud

Federal officials charge that Florida-based Greater Ministries, an antigovernment 'religious' group, is actually a criminal fraud

Standing at the podium of the Indianapolis Baptist Temple, Brother Patrick Henry Talbert was heating up his audience. Already, he'd told them about how his Florida-based Greater Ministries filed 61 "violations" against judges in Florida, the resignation of 240 judges and the 300 cases Greater brought before the Supreme Court.

Now he was getting to the meat of it.

"God says give, and it shall be given," Talbert said. "You give a gift, we basically take it offshore — and we've been doing this for nine years, nobody's ever lost a dime — and we multiply it back through the body of Christ. ... We don't promise you nothing. We just say nobody's lost a dime in nine years, and we double everything."

The audience, captured in an October 1997 videotape, was wide awake now.

"The Bible tells us about the end-times transfer of wealth. ... God teaches all through the Scriptures that in the last days he's going to take all those people that stole from you, the heathen, and give it back to the righteous... . We've given out over $500 million... .

"It's not our money, it's God's, but we know how to make it, and we know how to give it out so people give gifts to our ministry and we give it back to them double. ...

"It's like Christmas day every day at our ministry."

Christmas Turns to Ashes
Or so it was. This March, in the culmination of a major, three-year probe, a federal grand jury indicted Greater Ministries International Church elder Talbert, founder Gerald Payne and five others on charges of money laundering and mail fraud.

According to the 20-count indictment, the group's "Double Your Blessing" and "Faith Promises" programs were elaborate frauds, criminal conspiracies that bilked thousands of people for an amount that likely reaches the tens of millions of dollars.

Prosecutors say that beginning around March 1993, Greater's leaders promised their victims that they would double their money in 17 months or less. The Greater leaders claimed that they were investing the "gifts" that victims from around the country sent them in African gold mines and a myriad of other enterprises. God, they promised, would make them all rich.

In fact, prosecutors say, it was the classic Ponzi scheme: Money from later investors was used to pay the earlier ones, guaranteeing ultimate collapse. Along the way, Greater's elders allegedly got "gas money" — 5 percent of all donations they brought in.

If it was a scam, Tampa-based Greater Ministries was a ripoff with a twist, what investigators call an "affinity scam" that plays on deep-seated interests that potential victims already have.

It appealed to those in the so-called "Patriot" movement, to men and women already familiar with the talk of "sovereignty," of massive banking conspiracies and the New World Order, the Federal Reserve Board and the gold-fringed flag.

The 'Patriot' Connections
And it was very much a part of that movement.

· Payne, Greater's founder and director, and eight other Greater officials were named as unindicted co-conspirators in the federal trial of Emilio Ippolito in Tampa. Ippolito was sentenced to 11 years in connection with threats to hang federal judges and other activities of his "Constitutional Common-Law Court of We the People."

· Greater's one-time general counsel is Charles Eidson, former leader of the neo-Nazi Church of the Avenger and founder of the antigovernment Tampa Freedom Center (TFC). The TFC is based in Greater's headquarters building and is listed as a division of Greater Ministries.

Advertising in a 1997 Patriot publication, Payne and Eidson urged their readers to take a stand against the government and "against Zionism itself." Last September, in a letter to The Tampa Tribune, the two partners wrote: "We do not believe in what the Jew has done and is doing to our country."

The same month, Eidson wrote in a Patriot publication advertisement that the "enemy" was "clearly the damnable eternal Jews!"

· When Payne dissolved Greater Ministries as a corporation last September — in a bid to make it "exempt" from state and federal laws —he submitted a "common law notice" to the Florida comptroller's office. The notice declared that Greater would henceforth answer only to Ippolito's common-law court and "the constitutional common law militias."

Consider Patrick Henry Talbert, the Greater elder who was videotaped making his pitch, and his friends. Talbert was introduced by his host, Indianapolis Baptist Temple pastor Greg Dixon, a man who has been a linchpin of the Patriot movement throughout the 1990s.

After describing being jailed with several blacks — "I was so sick. My head was just pounding. I can't tell you how sick I was" — Dixon warmed up listeners by telling them that Greater has "a double common law trust ... and it works."

'They're Taking Over America'
"Thank you brother Dixon," Talbert replied. And within minutes, he was talking about the Patriot take on the gold-fringed U.S. flag that flies in federal courtrooms.

"Two hundred-forty countries right now have the gold-fringed flag in their courtrooms around the world," Talbert said, and the audience murmured its assent. "It's a one-world government being formed, and they've come into America... . While you was asleep at night they went into all your libraries and took the lawful flag out... .

"This is how they're trying to take over America."

How should a good Patriot fight back? Invest in Greater Ministries. Greater is battling government's repression of Christian churches, a repression that's already landed "500 preachers" in jail. It's filing liens against its enemies right and left.

Already, it has given a fortune to missionaries and other Christians worldwide, and its goal, Talbert says, is to "free up every Christian" financially.

With mines including a Liberian mother lode of gold and platinum that soon will produce $1 billion a year, with banks and hotels and a headquarters building and more, Greater is "truly blessed."

It worked like this.

For five years, Greater Ministries leaders traveled to churches and homes across the country encouraging people to invest thousands of dollars in their "Faith Promises" or similar double-your-money "ministries." They preached that investing was a form of "religious expression," a statement of faith in the power of God.

Beyond that, and a handful of commonplace pious platitudes, there was little to Greater's theology.

"Be humble," since-indicted Greater pastor Haywood Eudon "Don" Hall said. "But you don't have to be poor."