Ponzi scheme suspect paid $720K for prayers amid SEC probe


GREENBELT, Md. — An investment adviser charged with orchestrating a multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme spent nearly three-quarters of a million dollars on prayers by Hindu priests in India to ward off a federal investigation and save her failing business, according to testimony at her trial this week.

Using investors’ money, Dawn Bennett paid a man in Washington state approximately $720,000 between 2015 and 2017 to arrange for the priests to perform religious ceremonies meant to ease her troubles, said a Justice Department prosecutor and the man Bennett paid. For one of these “yagya” rituals, Bennett spent $7,250 for five priests to pray for her across 29 consecutive days.

“I am in a very very tough fight going against my enemies and I need all the help I can get,” Bennett wrote in an email to Puja.net website operator Benjamin Collins.

Six-figure payments for prayers didn’t spare Bennett from a 17-count indictment on fraud charges. Neither did the “hoodoo” spells that investigators suspected her of casting to stymie federal investigators, a claim fueled by a peculiar discovery during an FBI search of her home.

Collins, a government witness at Bennett’s trial, testified on Tuesday that he sincerely believed the religious rituals would help Bennett, whose payments accounted for roughly half of his website’s income.

“We don’t necessarily pray with a guaranteed outcome,” he added.

Bennett, 56, raised more than $20 million from at least 46 investors in her luxury sportswear company, often preying on elderly clients who knew her from a radio show she hosted in the Washington, D.C., area, authorities have said. They said she used investors’ money for her personal benefit, including jewelry purchases, cosmetic medical procedures and a $500,000 annual lease for a luxury suite at the Dallas Cowboys’ home stadium.

Bennett told U.S. District Judge Paula Xinis on Thursday that she doesn’t intend to testify at her trial. One of her trial lawyers, Dennis Boyle, said Bennett invested $13 million of her own money into the fledgling apparel business, selling assets and mortgaging homes to generate cash.

“She clearly believes that this is a legitimate company,” he said. “It catered to only the most discerning people.”

But her apparel business, DJBennett, never made a profit and had at least $15.6 million in liabilities and only $550,000 in revenue by December 2016, according to a complaint filed by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The indictment says she also used money from some investors to pay others, but many …read more

Source:: Nationalpost


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