Houston-Area Pastor Heads to Prison for Investment Fraud Scheme
|U.S. Attorney’s Office March 14, 2014|
HOUSTON—Samuel Ray Palasota, 53, has been ordered to federal prison following his convictions on multiple counts of mail and wire fraud, announced United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson. The Houston-area pastor was convicted of 21 counts of mail fraud and three counts of wire fraud in conjunction with an investment fraud ponzi scheme after three days of trial on October 17, 2013.
Today, U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein Jr. found the intended loss amount to be more than $1 million, because Palasota had attempted to cause the victim to sell her home and give him those funds in addition to the $650,000 in investment funds she had already sent him. As a result of the convictions and total intended loss, the court ordered he serve 71 months in federal prison to be immediately followed by a three-year term of supervised release. Judge Werlein further ordered the forfeiture of two vehicles Palasota had purchased with proceeds of the fraud scheme—a Dodge Ram truck and a Hyundai Genesis sedan.
During trial, the victim of the fraud scheme testified that Palasota convinced her to invest in what he claimed was a real estate investment program. Palasota provided her with documentation of the so-called real estate investment that was to be run under his company name, “The Maker’s Resources.” The documents from Palasota, which were introduced at trial, stated she would receive a “guaranteed” 40 percent return on her principal annually if she provided Palasota with $650,000 to invest. The recently divorced mother with young children agreed to the investment program and, in September 2009, sent Palasota the requested investment funds.
At the hearing today, additional evidence was presented, including religious-themed letters Palasota had written to the victim in order to lull her into complacency while she was “investing” her money with him.
Detailed bank records and financial charts were introduced at trial demonstrating Palasota invested none of the victim’s funds in real estate.
During the scheme, Palasota mailed and wired funds to the woman that he termed “returns on investment.” However, the financial records illustrated that the funds Palasota sent were just a small portion of the woman’s own investment principal, rather than the profits of a legitimate investment. She further testified that the alleged returns on her investment Palasota sent convinced her that the investment program was real and was successful.
The financial documents demonstrated that instead of investing in real estate, Palasota spent investment funds on luxury goods, such as cars, clothing, jewelry, computer equipment, and furniture, among other items. The financial documentation showed that by late 2010, Palasota had spent all of the victim’s funds. Further, by that time, Palasota’s bank account balance was negative.
Palasota was permitted to remain on bond and voluntarily surrender to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.
The investigation was conducted by the FBI. Assistant United States Attorneys Robert S. Johnson and Sharad Khandelwal prosecuted the case.