Like ripe fruit, ready for the picking

If you’re going to build a massive con to defraud people out of $50 million, you want to pick your marks carefully. You want people who are gullible, don’t demand a lot of evidence, and are willing to go along with you as long as it takes to milk them dry, as long as you promise bliss. Where would you go to find a large number of such people? It’s obvious: go to church, like Tri Energy did.

Like those caught up in other get-rich scams — from Bernard Madoff’s $65 billion Ponzi scheme, which initially snared wealthy Jews, to an alleged $4.4 million fraud aimed at deaf people — Tri Energy’s investors had something in common. Many were Mormons and born-again Christians who shared dreams and prayers on nightly conference calls. They vowed to use the profits for charitable works and kept raising funds, at times taking out second mortgages, draining retirement accounts and recruiting relatives.

No one deserves the fleecing these victims got, though. Elderly people had their savings cleaned out; at least one committed suicide after he realized how thoroughly he had been ripped off.