A longtime spiritual adviser to President George W. Bush bilked vulnerable and elderly investors out of more than $1 million after selling them worthless Chinese bonds, federal prosecutors said.
Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell was accused in an indictment of using his prominence as the pastor of a Houston mega-church to lure investors into the scheme, Shreveport (La.) U.S. Attorney Alexander Van Hook said Thursday.
Caldwell, 64, is one of the most well-known and wealthiest ministers in the Houston area, Fox 26 Houston reported. His Village United Methodist Church has more than 16,000 members.
The pastor has served as a spiritual advisor to President George W. Bush for years, the station reported. Bush asked Caldwell, a political independent, to introduce him at the 2000 Republican Convention. Caldwell offered the benediction at Bush’s 2001 inauguration and even joined the former president on his first visit to the World Trade Center after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Caldwell also officiated at the 2008 wedding of Jenna Bush, the former president’s daughter.
An email sent Friday by Fox News to Bush’s office for comment was not immediately returned.
The indictment alleges that the pastor and a co-defendant, financial advisor Gregory Alan Smith, 55, of Shreveport, promised investors exorbitant rates of returns.
“Instead of investing the funds, the defendants used them to pay personal loans, credit card balances, mortgages, vehicle purchases and other personal expenses," Van Hook said in a news release.
Caldwell and Smith were accused of peddling bonds that had been issued decades ago.
Van Hook said that the bonds had been issued by the former Republic of China prior to losing power to the Communist government in 1949.
“They are not recognized by China’s current government and have no investment value,” the prosecutor said.
Both men face 20 years in prison for wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fruad. They also each face 10 years in prison for money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Caldwell said through an attorney that he was innocent, Fox 26 reported.
"Reverend KJC is not only a religious leader, he’s wrongfully accused,” the station quoted the attorney as saying. “He trusts the legal process but most importantly his faith. He will be absolved. We look forward to trying this case in the court of law."