Seventh Day Adventist? More like Seventh Day A-hole.
According to investigators, Marguerite Martial Jean ran a $3.4 million Ponzi scheme targeting nearly 300 of her fellow Haitian-Americans. As if that wasn't cynical enough, her former pastor says Jean scammed at least 25 fellow members of the Eden Seventh Day Adventist Church on N. Miami Ave. and 78th St. -- all while overseeing Bible study at the church.
"She was a church officer!" says retired minister Michel Lamartine Porcena, who invested over $200,000 of his own money into Jean's bogus business. "As her pastor, I never thought that this person, a church member, wasn't telling the truth."
Porcena says Jean first contacted his wife with a "business offer" back in 2007 while he was on vacation in Georgia. Jean claimed to have found a cheap shipment of rice that she could re-sell to foreign buyers for a nifty 22 percent profit, if Porcena put up some cash.
Trusting his fellow Seventh Day Adventist, he gave Jean $7,000.
"She promised us $1,600 (in interest payments)," Porcena says. "And within a few days, we got it."
Porcena, like two dozen other members of his own church, was intrigued by the promise of easy money. He coughed up another $1,000 for Jean's business, believing that she had a warehouse full of rice somewhere. Again, Jean paid as promised.
"She was always on the phone with supposed clients," Porcena recalls. "She would tell them, 'I can't send you so much (rice) right now," to prove that the business was real. But I found later that there was no one on the phone, that she had no business."
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At first, the pastor was fooled. He even took out a $75,000 loan on his house in order to invest in Jean and her husband Gary's businesses: MMJ Warehouse and VLM Enterprise, LLC. Then the payments dried up and Jean started making excuses, Porcena says. By mid 2009, he knew he was being bilked.
Ultimately, the pastor lost a third of his $203,270 investment in the Ponzi scheme. He also lost a bit of his faith in his flock.
"These were people that I trusted," Porcena says of Jean and her husband. "I never thought they could do something like this. But they did."