In a shocking turn of events that rocked many of his supporters and parishioners, former senior pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church, Kirbyjon H. Caldwell, was sentenced on January 13th to 72 months (6 years) in prison for conspiracy to commit wire fraud, with no home confinement as an option.
In a statement released by the U.S. Department of Justice, Caldwell, 67, will also serve one additional year of supervised release. United States District Judge S. Maurice Hicks, Jr. also ordered Caldwell to pay restitution in the amount of $3,588,500, as well as a fine of $125,000.
“The defendants in this case abused the trust that the victims had placed in them,” Acting United States Attorney Van Hook said in the release. “This defendant used his status as the pastor of a mega-church to help convince the many victim investors that they were making a legitimate investment but instead he took their hard-earned money from them and used it for his own personal gain. This office will continue to investigate and prosecute those who scheme and prey upon the elderly and others.”
Caldwell obtained a master’s degree from the Wharton School of Business and worked in the financial industry, in addition to serving as the senior pastor of the ministry that has done a lot to empower the community through economic and business development, as well as spiritual empowerment programs and initiatives.
The details that led to the eventually sentencing of Caldwell were spelled out by the U.S. Department of Justice, stating that in the spring of 2013, Caldwell, through his co-defendant, Gregory Alan Smith, from Shreveport, approached Smith’s existing clients and acquaintances about an investment opportunity in historical Chinese bonds. Potential investors were told that they would be obtaining a partial ownership interest in the bonds and that they would receive exponential returns on their investments in a short period of time. Caldwell and Smith neglected to tell these individuals that historical Chinese bonds, bonds issued by the former Republic of China prior to losing power to the communist government in 1949, held no value. In fact, the bonds were considered by the Securities and Exchange Commission to be mere collectables with no value outside of the memorabilia market.
According to the release, after hearing Smith’s fraudulent pitch, victim-investors who believed and trusted him agreed to invest in these bonds. These victims were provided with a “participation agreement” indicating that if the sale of the bonds failed to occur within a certain number of days, the invested funds would be returned within a defined period of time. They were instructed to wire funds to various bank accounts held by or controlled by Caldwell. In total, in 2013 and 2014, approximately $3.5 million was “invested” in these bond deals.
The funds were then divided between Smith, Caldwell, and others. Caldwell personally received approximately $900,000. Caldwell used a portion of that money to pay down debt including personal loans, mortgages, and credit cards and maintain his lifestyle, among other things. The investors were told their funds were used to purchase bonds and pay for expenses incurred from selling or redeeming the bonds. As time passed and victim-investors questioned why they had yet to receive the promised returns, Caldwell and Smith, through texts and emails, offered excuses as to why the deals had not yet closed, defended the legitimacy of the deals, and assured the investors that they would receive their promised returns. The victim-investors never received returns from these Chinese bonds.
The lay leadership of Windsor Village United Methodist Church released a statement of their own on Facebook, shortly after the sentencing of Caldwell, who led the church for nearly 38 years. They believe Caldwell was a victim in the case as well, stating in the statement:
Today, our visionary leader, Kirbyjon Caldwell, personally appeared in the courtroom of Chief Judge S. Maurice Hicks Jr. in Shreveport, Louisiana, and was sentenced. Caldwell pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud on March 11, 2020. He was indicted on March 29, 2018. During today’s hearing, Caldwell expressed his profound remorse and accepted full responsibility for his actions. The court found that Caldwell made full restitution to all of the victims. Notably, restitution began prior to indictment and was completed before sentencing. Many victims were paid over and above the amount that they invested. Voluntary restitution is virtually unheard of and extremely rare in these kinds of cases. Lay Preacher Caldwell, who is no longer an ordained elder in the Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, never stopped serving the community. As a direct result of this servant leadership, 980 part-time and full-time jobs were created; 258 acres of land have been developed and more than $168 million in economic value has been added to our community, a historically underserved community. These contributions include 462 homes, a YMCA, nationally known franchise restaurants, health care providers, an independent senior living facility and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, to name a few. Caldwell has expressed his deep remorse and has apologized on numerous occasions.
According to Floyd LeBlanc, Chairman of The Windsor Village Church Family Personnel Committee, The Windsor Village Lay Leadership has acknowledged Caldwell’s full restitution and accepted his apology.
“We look forward to more lives being changed and more destinies being shaped as The Windsor Village Church Family continues to fulfill its God-given mission, in Jesus’s Name,” said LeBlanc. “The Kingdom Building continues!”
The Windsor Village Church Family is one of the largest protestant churches in the country.
The FBI conducted the investigation and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Seth D. Reeg and C. Mignonne Griffing prosecuted the case.
There have been several questions posed by Caldwell supporters and those following the case, such as:
- Why was Caldwell’s co-defendant, Greg Smith’s sentencing held via ZOOM because of the COVID-19 pandemic versus Caldwell who was required to appear in person.
- Why was the press invited to Caldwell’s sentencing and given priority seating, even over Caldwell’s family?
- Caldwell refunded every penny of each victim’s investment. Smith, on the other hand, did not refund one single penny. No victims spoke against Smith during his sentencing hearing. At least one victim spoke against Caldwell during his sentencing period, and this is a victim whose money was refunded by Caldwell. Why did the victim speak against Caldwell and not against Smith, even though Caldwell is the only one who refunded her the money?
Time will tell if those questions will receive answers.
In the meantime, Caldwell has been ordered to report to the Bureau of Prisons on June 22, 2021.