PHOENIX – Two former executives of the Baptist Foundation of Arizona, which collapsed in what has been called the largest nonprofit bankruptcy filing in the nation's history, have been convicted of fraud.
Prosecutors estimated 11,000 investors, most of them elderly, were defrauded in the 1980s and 1990s.
A jury on Monday found former foundation president William Crotts guilty of three counts of fraud and one count of illegally conducting an enterprise, according to the Arizona Attorney General's Office, which prosecuted the case. Former general counsel Thomas Grabinski was convicted of three counts of fraud and one count of illegally conducting an enterprise. They were acquitted of 23 counts of theft.
"These verdicts are a victory for thousands of victims who believed the promises made by the defendants," Attorney General Terry Goddard said in a statement. "They had their faith shattered and faced the possible loss of all their retirement investments."
Five other defendants pleaded guilty to fraud or other charges and agreed to pay fines, Goddard said.
The foundation was created in 1948 by the Southern Baptist Convention to administer endowments to the church. It eventually grew into an independent nonprofit organization that sold individual retirement accounts and other investments.
Prosecutors said investors were promised high returns and a safe investment for using their money to build churches and retirement homes, but their combined losses totaled more than a half-billion dollars.
"I just hope they realize they defied (God's) word by mishandling money that people entrusted to them," said Virginia Branch, 77, of Prescott, who lost $400,000 she said would have helped her grandchildren pay for college.
Crotts and Grabinski could face six to 23 years for each count. Sentencing was set for Sept. 29.
Defense lawyers said they plan to ask Judge Kenneth Fields to dismiss the charges, and plan to appeal if he doesn't.
A lawyer for Crotts, Michael Piccarreta, said all the foundation's investors would have been paid back if the state hadn't shut it down in 1999 for what the Arizona Corporation Commission said were faulty financial statements.