Tuesday, February 03, 2009

SLTrib: Developer/former LDS Bishop Charged in Huge Fraud

More criminal charges in the Val Southwick Ponzi Scheme scam

The Salt Lake Tribune reports this morning that there's more criminal blowback in the Val Southwick Ponzi Scheme story. We incorporate SLTrib reporter Tom Harvey's lead paragraphs below, which set forth facts which are all too familiar:
A former St. George developer and LDS bishop is facing 10 criminal charges for allegedly selling investments and taking commissions linked to a giant Ponzi scheme that appears to be Utah's largest-ever financial fraud.
William J. Hammons, 64, is charged with second- and third-degree felonies for his work on behalf of Val E. Southwick, the imprisoned Ogden businessman who ran the scheme that collapsed in 2007 after bilking 800 or so investors out of more than $180 million.
Hammons has been called by state regulators the single-largest outside seller of securities for Southwick's VesCor real estate development operations -- perhaps as much as $52 million. Many of those investments were sold to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Las Vegas, where Hammons served as a bishop, and in St. George. The St. George investors included neighbors, church members, Hammons' partner when he served a mission for the church and his parents-in-law.
Mr. Harvey's story doesn't specify whether Mr. Hammons is a Friend of Matt (FOM).


Curmudgeon said...

The saddest lines in the story, I think, were these:

Letters gathered in a Las Vegas lawsuit from investors are directed to "Bishop Hammons," while at least one investor from his former ward said she prayed about where to invest some savings and came to the conclusion she should talk to Hammons.

It's just sad that the woman believed god was her investment adviser and that he told her to invest with Hammons. And depressing that people are ready and eager to prey upon that kind of pathetic belief. And is her experience likely to shake her faith that god speaks to her in answer to her pleading? I suspect not. She'll convince herself that she didn't pray hard enough, or that when god spoke, she wasn't listening carefully enough. And so she'll be a mark yet again [if she has any money left] for yet another preacher with a paw out pedaling the almighty's special investment opportunity for the faithful, guaranteed to reward their righteousness.

Truly sad.

Truth Seeker said...

Again Curm, you show your lack of understanding of the local culture.

Bishops are NOT, repeat NOT Preachers or for that matter in any way trained at seminaries nor educated in Christian orthodoxy.

They are popularity figures elected by Ward members, who try to delve into the lives of their neighbors in every conceivable way, sometimes helpful ways and other times inappropriate ways.

There appears to be so much you, and others just do not understand nor get. Yet you are quick to make false assumptions based upon ignorance (not stupidity) of both the LDS (some claim a non Christian belief structure) and protestant Christian beliefs.

Highly recommend you simply go to church and then go to a Ward meeting (which the LDS try to pass off as "church") and learn the differences.

Oh. And I agree that those who pray for financial enrichment and divine guidance relative to their own pecunary enhancement, are "pathetic" and like yourself... apparently do not understand God's word, or have been sadly been misinformed. Notice I said God's word and not those of Joseph Smith. Do yourself a favor...study and learn.

Bill C. said...

Truth Seeker, your technically off a little bit. Bishops aren't elected, higher ups call ( appoint or nominate) and the members by a show of hands confirm. Don't know if there's ever been cases where any of the congregation voiced opposition, being the proccess is supposed to be directly linked from God, so I've been told. And what true believer would question God's motivations for such an appointment?

ozboy said...

You are right Bill, the LDS Church is a hierarchy and patriarchal society, and all appointments to leadership positions come from above as "callings" which are then invariably "sustained" by the members through a showing of hands in a church meeting.

Loyal members absolutely never question the judgement of their leaders in these callings (or anything else) and always unanimously sustain those called. It is the ultimate chain of command leading all the way up to God hisself, and to question any "holder of the keys" is to question the almighty and the entire belief system.

This of course is at the heart of why so many otherwise intelligent but loyal LDS members can be so gullible in investment decisions involving "holders of the keys".

Curmudgeon said...

Truth Seeker:

Your criticism might be valid if I was arguing that Mormon bishops were particularly the problem and more prone to crookery than others. I wasn't. This kind of religion-based scamming knows no denomination. See the Maddoff scandal for example. He traded on his faith to turn his fellow Jews into marks. Live in the Baptist Belt for a while and you'll find all kinds of religion-based scams preying on the praying faithful. Hell, just turn on the TV and watch that oily little guy convincing the credulous that sending him a "seed gift of faith" will result in the lord blessing the senders with riches. If it doesn't happen, he tells them, their seed gift was not big enough. Send more. And they do.

Since I wasn't talking just about or even particularly about Mormons, but the whole sad phenomenon of faith-based fraud, "preachers with a paw out" seemed then, seems still, a good term to describe the scammers. If "preacher" does not precisely fit the job description of the head of each individual LDS congregation, it's close enough.

Bill C. said...

For any needing further clarification I refer you two two songs on Frank Zappa's You are what You is, LP. Dumb all over, and of course, Heavenly Bank Account.

democrat said...

If the Bishop is a democrat then he needs to be in jail.

But if the Bishop is a Republican he is justified.

Curmudgeon said...

Sad to report, the Standard Examiner has dropped the ball on this story. In this morning's paper, there is a long story, by Tim Gurrister, reporting that "Two Val Southwick cohorts have been charged as accomplices in the financial escapades that landed the Ogden financier in prison this year. William J. Hammons, 64, an investment counselor in St. George, was charged last week in the 5th District Court in Washington County with multiple counts of fraud."

Nowhere in the story, however, will readers of the SE learn that Mr. Hammons was bishop of his LDS ward in Las Vegas. That would not be a problem if Mr. Hammon's role as an LDS bishop was unrelated to the crimes he is alleged to have committed. If his status as bishop of a ward in Las Vegas was wholly unrelated to what he's charged with doing, throwing it in as anything but an aside would have opened the paper to the charge of Mormon-bashing.

But, sadly the SL Trib story makes clear what the SE refused to report: Hammons is alleged to have traded on his position as bishop to peddle Ponzi scheme investments to his co-religionists. His religious affiliation and his religious post are important elements of the story and the allegations made against him, not irrelevant incidentals.

In reporting crime stories, it's the SE's job to report all the significant elements of the story it has discovered to its readers. It is not its job to coddle the religious sensibilities of many of its readers by deleting important parts of stories because they may find those details uncomfortable, embarrassing or disconcerting. I suspect that may have happened in today's SE story. It shouldn't have.

The SL Trib story can be found here. The SE story is not available on the free website. Buy a copy, cheapskates.

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