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By Stephen Janis
Special to the AFRO

A Maryland Grand Jury has handed down indictments for a trio of local businessmen accused of running a Ponzi scheme that left investors with losses estimated to be as high as $28 million. 

The FBI is also seeking victims of the scheme run by men purporting to be pastors and conducting business under the name of “1st millions.”  

The charges accuse the men of seeking to lure unsuspecting investors at events held at Maryland churches and hotels. The defendants told victims their money would be invested in Crypto, a form of digitally created currency that is pegged to the dollar. 

The company promised exceptionally high interest rates to people who committed large sums of money for a year.

But as federal prosecutors allege, the money was not actually invested, but used to fund a lavish lifestyle for the owners of the firm. In some instances, the funds were redirected into the accounts of friends and relatives of the defendants, leaving investors with massive losses. 

The indictment names three Maryland residents, Dennis Mbongeni Jali, John Erasmus Frimpong and Arley Ray Johnson. The men ran a Largo, Md. based firm called Smart Partners that did business as “1stmillions.” 

The trio enticed victims to invest in so-called “guaranteed investment contracts, ” which offered a rate of return ranging from 6% to 28% per month. Investors were told the firm had a “can’t miss” investment strategy that generated unusually high rates of return by manipulating crypto currency. 

The defendants often called themselves “pastors,” and told potential investors that their company was doing work in “furtherance of God’s mission.” The trio held investment seminars during which they are alleged to have bilked victims of millions.

The multiple count indictment does not name the victims, but does disclose that at least half on the initial list reside in Maryland. Federal authorities are also seeking to seize several bank accounts and a Porsche, which they allege was bought with illegally obtained proceeds.  

The FBI estimates the men victimized roughly 1,200 people over a 2-year period.  And while the business itself was based in Largo, victims have been located across the country

The FBI is seeking additional victims of the scheme.  If you think you might have been a victim of the scam the FBI urges you to contact them at firstmillion@fbi.gov.  The FBI also posted a questionnaire for victims at: www.forms.fbi.gov/seeking-victims-in-the-1st-million-investigation.