Saturday, September 17, 2005
Pastor gets probation in pyramid scheme
Houston - The pastor of an Humble storefront church and TV ministry was granted a form of probation Friday after pleading guilty to promoting a pyramid scheme.
But Sean Patrick Riley, 37, pastor of the nondenominational Secret Place International church, insisted he was drawn into the scheme by others and saw no indications the activity was illegal.
"I was taken advantage of. I was a victim just like anybody else," Riley said later Friday. "I'm not who everybody has claimed that I am."
As part of his plea agreement, Riley was given two years' deferred adjudication and ordered to pay a $500 fine. Defendants who successfully complete the terms of deferred adjudication avoid conviction, but the fact that they were charged stays on their record.
Riley said he entered his plea "so I can continue doing what God has called me to do."
His agreement with prosecutors calls for him to testify, if necessary, against another man arrested in the investigation and to help educate the public about Elite Activity, which authorities call an illegal "gifting" scheme with national branches.
Riley said he was drawn into Elite Activity in December when a man who runs a local ministry asked him to watch a DVD promoting the group. He said he consulted three lawyers and the Texas Attorney General's Office, but none warned of illegal activity by the group.
Two months later, investigators from the Harris County District Attorney's Office served search warrants at Riley's church, in the 7200 block of FM 1960 West, and at his home.
Authorities confiscated more than $8,000 in cash, computers and records, as well as forms linked to Elite Activity.
Investigators focused on Riley after learning he was holding meetings at his church on nights and weekends to recruit investors into the scheme, said prosecutor Valerie Turner.
Each participant donated $100 with the expectation of receiving large sums of money, and was asked to recruit two other investors, Turner said.
Riley, who has cooperated with investigators since his arrest, was "not the most culpable," said Turner.
Also charged are Harvey Joseph Dockstader Jr., 39, of Colorado City, Ariz., and Tim Hunt, age unknown, who is thought to live in Chicago. Each is charged with promoting a pyramid scheme. If convicted, they could face up to two years in jail.
Dockstader is free on $15,000 bail as he awaits trial. Hunt remains at large, prosecutors said.
See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.