A former Mormon bishop in Connecticut has pleaded guilty to federal fraud and money laundering charges for defrauding members of his congregation.
Julius C. Blackwelder, 59, formerly of Stratford, Conn., defrauded investors out of $400,000. He pleaded guilty Wednesday in U.S. District Court in New Haven one count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years, and one count of money laundering, which carries a maximum term of 10 years.
“This defendant abused his position of trust as a leader in his church to defraud fellow church members and others out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, much of which he used to construct a waterfront home,” U.S. Attorney David Fein said in a statement.
According to court documents and statements in court, beginning in 2005, Blackwelder, then bishop of the Bridgeport Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solicited investments from members of his congregation and others for a pool called the “Friend’s Investment Group.”
Blackwelder told investors he would invest their money in safe, long-term commodities futures contracts, and that he was an experienced and successful commodities investor. For some he also guaranteed their principal and a specific return on their investment.
In fact, Blackwelder used investor money to pay other investors in what’s known as a Ponzi scheme and also appropriated funds for his own expenses, including to build a waterfront home in Stratford and to repay personal bank loans.
Blackwelder is a former Utah resident who now lives in North Dakota. He was indicted in March of 2012 on nine counts of money laundering and mail and wire fraud.
District Judge Ellen Bree Burns set sentencing for sentencing for May 15.