The former Houston megachurch pastor, Kirbyjon Caldwell, was once a spiritual adviser to presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The pastor was a frequent visitor to the White House during the George W. Bush administration and even officiated Jenna Bush's wedding.
In Louisiana, authorities sentenced Caldwell to six years in federal prison for defrauding more than two dozen people out of millions of dollars by selling worthless Chinese bonds.
According to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Louisiana, Caldwell and Louisiana financial adviser Gregory Alan Smith were indicted in 2018 by federal officials after encouraging 29 people to invest about $3.5 million (between April 2013 to August 2014) in historical bonds issued by China before the Communist takeover in 1949. They told investors they could see returns as high as 15 times their initial investment.
Sadly, the bonds from the former Republic of China existed only before the communist takeover there in 1949. Now the bonds are considered to be no more than "collectible memorabilia" by the Securities and Exchange Commission." According to court documents, China's government no longer recognizes the bonds, and they have no investment value.
Initially, Caldwell denied the accusations but pleaded guilty last year. Smith is currently in prison after pleading guilty last summer.
The United Methodist Church has since defrocked the fallen pastor, though he continues serving in a paid position at Windsor, where his wife now serves as lead pastor. Caldwell was credited by the church, who noted that he voluntarily paid restitution to his victims before being sentenced, which the church said was "virtually unheard of and extremely rare in these kinds of cases."
Before sentencing, the Chief District Judge S. Hicks noted the former pastor's regular community service and the fact he repaid more than $4 million to the victims — which the judge acknowledged as a rarity in most fraud cases.
Head of the southeast Texas United Methodist group, Bishop Scott Jones, noted that Caldwell "confessed his crimes and offered a sincere expression of remorse for his actions and the harm they caused as well as taking extraordinary steps toward repairing the damage."
Jones further mentioned, "The court heard about these efforts and many additional factors, including the significant accomplishments over decades as a pastor and community leader, when determining Mr. Caldwell's appropriate punishment for the confessed crimes."
The 67-year-old Caldwell's attorney pleaded home confinement for Caldwell, saying his prostate cancer and hypertension made him a high risk for COVID-19. The judge deferred Caldwell's prison sentence until June.
"Here, he is the man who swindled widows out of their annuities and couples out of their retirements," one prosecutor said. "Here, he is the man who extolled the virtues of these wonderful investment opportunities while taking the money for himself."
Judge Hicks publicly considered the "age-old question of why this ever occurred."
"That remains unanswered," he said. "It remains untouched as an issue."