The longtime pastor of one of the largest United Methodist churches has been indicted by a federal grand jury on wire fraud and money laundering charges connected to bond sales.
The Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, leader of the 18,000-member Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, maintained his innocence at a March 30 press conference.
“As we move forward, the truth will prevail,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell is alleged, with businessman Gregory Allan Smith, to have bilked investors out of more than $1 million in sales of worthless Chinese bonds, according to a press release from the office of U.S. Attorney Alexander C. Van Hook, in Shreveport, Louisiana.
The Securities and Exchange Commission also filed suit against the men in federal court in Shreveport, claiming they raised nearly $3.5 million in a scheme to defraud 29 investors through bond sales.
Caldwell will surrender to authorities in a few days, but will immediately post bond and fight the charges in a process expected to last at least a year, according to his lawyer, Don Cogdell.
“At no time did he try to cheat anyone,” Cogdell said. “Indeed, every person that invested in these bonds that has asked for their money back has gotten their money back.”
Caldwell, 64, is a nationally prominent pastor, having led Windsor Village to spectacular growth since he began there in 1982.
The General Council on Finance and Administration, using 2016 figures, has ranked Windsor Village as the denomination’s largest church in membership, with about 18,000 members. But the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, reports having more than 20,000 members.
Windsor Village is easily the largest predominantly African-American United Methodist church in membership and attendance.
The church is a recognized force in Houston, including in social outreach and economic development.
A Houston native, Caldwell earned degrees at Carleton College and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, working as an investment banker before entering ministry.
Caldwell holds a master of divinity degree from Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology. He has been an SMU trustee, and Perkins named him 2005 alumnus of the year.
He’s a friend of former President George W. Bush and wife Laura Bush, and officiated at their daughter Jenna’s wedding to Henry Hager. He also has been close to former President Barack Obama.
Caldwell serves on corporate boards, and is the author of the book “The Gospel of Good Success: A Road Map to Spiritual, Emotional and Financial Wholeness.”
The 13-count indictment alleges Caldwell used his influence as pastor, and Smith his influence as operator of Smith Financial Group in Shreveport, to persuade investors to invest in historical Chinese bonds.
“These bonds were issued by the former Republic of China prior to losing powers to the communist government in 1949,” the press release said. “They are not recognized by China’s current government and have no investment value.”
Smith and Caldwell are accused of promising investors high rates of return and using the investment funds to pay personal loans, credit card balances, mortgages, vehicle purchases and other personal expenses.
The men are charged with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. They face up to 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine and restitution costs.
Cogdell and Caldwell did not answer specific questions at the press conference, but emphasized that all unhappy investors had been repaid and that Caldwell had invested his own money in the bonds.
“These bonds are legitimate. The process was legitimate,” Caldwell said.
His lawyer said Windsor Village United Methodist Church members were not among the investors.
Caldwell remains the church’s pastor. Texas Conference Bishop Scott Jones issued this statement:
“Kirbyjon Caldwell has been an outstanding pastor and leader in our community for over 30 years. The United Methodist Church has high standards for the moral conduct of its clergy, and we recognize the seriousness of the charges against him. We will walk though this difficult situation with Rev. Caldwell and the Windsor Village congregation and keep them in our prayers. We have faith that the judicial process will find the truth.”