The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports…
“A controversial St. Charles pastor was sentenced to seven years in federal prison Wednesday and ordered to repay $3.3 million to the elderly investors he defrauded.
Jim Staley pleaded guilty in April to four counts of wire fraud and admitted defrauding investors out of $3.3 million, while making $570,000 for himself.
Victims and their relatives in court and in letters called him “sick, manipulative and deceitful” and a “disgusting and sickening criminal.” They spoke of the elderly investors who trusted him, some because of his professed Christian faith, and some because they were in the early stages of dementia.
Staley is the pastor of Passion For Truth Ministries, and has gathered “Christian Roots Movement” followers worldwide. Staley and other Roots Movement adherents advocate a return to core Bible teaching, before churches “started adding and subtracting from the word of God.”
None of the victims were parishioners.
Staley has long blamed his troubles on “enemies of the Father,” and in a sermon as recently as August 1, compared himself to the biblical Joseph and said that he had simply been at the wrong place at the wrong time. Because of that, Staley lost a credit for accepting responsibility under the federal sentencing guidelines and risked more prison time.
He has also paid just $1,950 – a tiny fraction of the restitution owed to victims, despite a church salary of $127,000 and free rent in a million-dollar house, according to court testimony.
On Wednesday and in court, lawyer Scott Rosenblum said that Staley’s acceptance of responsibility for his crimes has been a process. Rosenblum said it wasn’t until last week, when confronted by Rosenblum and other lawyers in his office, that Staley had an epiphany. He stopped parsing words and his actions and accepted that he had nefarious intentions at some point in the process, Rosenblum said.
Then Staley spoke.
Holding back tears, Staley apologized for being overzealous and for failing to tell investors that they could lose money. He also said that he should have done his homework on the investment.
He said that he’d dedicated his life to people and vowed to pay back victims, saying “my faith requires it.”
In 2008, Staley formed Wealth Financial International and became a sales agent for a California company named B&B Equity Group.
Both victims in court Wednesday and officials in the past have said that Staley convinced clients to cash in annuities, knowing they would lose “substantial” sums to penalties. He also continued to sell the investment – bundled life insurance policies – and recruit salespeople after realizing that the investment wasn’t selling and after being ordered to stop, officials have said. He also failed to tell investors about the state cease and desist order.
Rosenblum asked for a sentence of five years. Assistant U.S. Attorney Dianna Collins asked for something within the federal sentencing guidelines of about nine to 11 years.
U.S. District Judge E. Richard Webber, in sentencing Staley to seven years, cited Staley’s solid marriage and home life and his complete lack of a criminal record or any drug or alcohol abuse. Webber said Staley had “very little interest so far in making restitution” and had repeatedly downplayed his conduct since his indictment.”