A married couple, both asylum refugees from Kenya, engaged in a four-year fraud scheme that targeted several Midwest churches. The couple represented themselves as siblings and told their victims that they were homeless illegal immigrants suffering from serious medical conditions, including malaria and tuberculosis, and that they had significant legal bills attendant to their immigration status. During the four-year period covered by the indictment, the couple netted more than $1.1 million in proceeds, including $815,000 from one church. Though the couple said they needed the funds for legal and medical bills and tuition, they used the money to maintain two apartments and gambled away nearly $1 million.
The couple was apprehended, and pleaded guilty to mail fraud. The husband was sentenced to 39 months' imprisonment.
There is little chance that any of the churches will recover their contributions to this couple, since most of the funds they received were lost through gambling.
What this means for churches
This case should serve as a warning to church leaders to be wary of any appeals for donations from persons who are unfamiliar to you. Before responding to seemingly urgent appeals for funds, confirm the identity of the person seeking a donation as well as the legitimacy of the appeal. If in doubt, do not contribute. Remember, church leaders have a fiduciary duty to take reasonable steps to safeguard church assets, and this duty may be breached by responding to unsubstantiated appeals for funds. U.S. v. Bosire, 407 Fed.Appx. 951 (7th Cir. 2010).