Santa Ana, California - The pastor of the Westminster-based Church of the Healthy Self has agreed to plead guilty to federal criminal charges that he orchestrated a church-based investment scam that took in more than $33 million, United States Attorney Nick Hanna announced Friday.
Kent R.E. Whitney, 38, of Newport Beach, has agreed to plead guilty to a two-count information charging him with mail fraud and filing a false federal income tax return. The criminal information and a related plea agreement were filed Wednesday in United States District Court.
According to his plea agreement, from September 2014 until April 2019, Whitney engaged in a scheme to defraud investors through the Church of the Healthy Self (CHS), a non-profit corporation, and its related entities, including CHS Asset Management, Inc. Whitney founded these entities, operated them out of a strip mall in Westminster, and claimed to be the pastor of CHS.
At Whitney’s direction, CHS representatives appeared on television and at live seminars at CHS offices to solicit investments in CHS Trust, the church’s investment arm. Recordings of these appearances frequently were uploaded onto YouTube.
In these appearances, at Whitney’s direction, CHS representatives made false or misleading claims, including:
- CHS Trust guaranteed an annual rate of return of 12 percent;
- CHS Trust guaranteed a return of principal with no risk because it was federally insured;
- The worst return received during the previous five years was a 1.5 percent profit for the month of January 2015;
- Traders used by CHS had not lost money in 15 years; and
- CHS was audited by accounting firm KPMG.
In reality, little investor money went into any trading accounts, according to court documents.
Relying on these false statements, victim-investors sent more than $33 million to CHS from 2014 to 2019. As part of the scheme, Whitney directed that monthly statements be sent to victims that contained false reports of investment returns. Whitney intended to lull victims into believing their money had been invested and was consistent with the false claims made by CHS representatives.
Whitney also admitted in his plea agreement that he knowingly and willfully signed and filed a false federal income tax return that reported that his total income for the tax year 2018 was $17,539. In fact, as Whitney knew, his true income for that year was at least $452,872, of which approximately $435,333 was obtained via Whitney’s CHS fraud. The resulting tax loss was at least $130,808, the plea agreement states.
When Whitney enters his guilty plea, he will face a statutory maximum sentence of 23 years in federal prison.
The FBI and IRS Criminal Investigation investigated this matter. The Securities and Exchange Commission provided substantial assistance with the investigation.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Gregory W. Staples of the Santa Ana Branch Office.