Luis Serna, formerly a pastor at Zion Living Word Christian Center in San Fernando, California, was sentenced today to over ten years in a federal prison for operating a $7 million Ponzi scheme that congregants, community members, and their families were duped into funding. In whole, 82 victims were bilked out of about $4.6 million over three years.
Serna is believed to have used his position as pastor to prey on low income, Spanish-speaking victims. He pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in August and noted in his plea deal that in or around 2006 he started soliciting loans from his congregation and the community through his company, Architects of the Future Investments. He represented to his victims that he was a successful investor in foreign currencies and offered them returns between four and twenty percent annually for giving him their life savings and mortgaging their homes.
In reality, Serna invested little of the money, if any at all. The first victims were paid from funds given to Serna by newer victims, the defining element of a Ponzi scheme, but eventually the checks started to bounce, Serna stopped returning investors' phone calls, and investors' lives were ruined.
Serna was sentenced to 121 months imprisonment and ordered to pay $4.6 million in restitution, but prosecutors doubt that Serna will ever repay the money.