Scams and Mormonism

by Rocky Hulse

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

Today’s headline story on the front page of the Austin American-Statesman is: “Triton investors have church ties.” The subtitle of the article is, “Local Mormons felt comfort with founder of company now investigated by state, SEC.” The article begins by talking about Diane Gordon, a Mormon, whose husband was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2004 and who received a multi-million dollar settlement from the insurance company. She invested the money with Kurt Barton, a fellow Mormon, a member of her congregation (ward) and owner of Triton Financial.

The article states: “Three weeks ago, the company was taken over by state and federal regulators, who described Triton’s finances as a $50 million ‘shell game’….Heisman Trophy winners Ty Detmer and Chris Weinke were early investors and, for a time, listed as company executives….But Barton also was known in the church as someone with financial expertise. At one point, the leadership of one of three Austin-area stakes (a stake is a group of several congregations consisting of about 3,000 worshippers) designated him as a knowledgeable congregant other church members could turn to with questions about their finances, according to several members. Such designations are typically made known in regular printed bulletins for members.”

The article goes on to describe an event known as “affinity fraud”: “Church members and others describe the concentration of Triton executives and investors from the Mormon church as a possible example of “affinity fraud,” in which people looking for money often go first to those they know, either personally or through social organizations. ‘It’s common for perpetrators of fraud to target an identifiable group—anyone who shares a common interest,’ said Robert Elder, a spokesman for the state securities board.”

The article also talks about how Mormons use their “Temple Recommends” to help them in their scams. In order to attend a Mormon Temple, a Mormon must be interviewed by their Bishop and Stake President to determine their “worthiness.” Within the context of Mormonism, attending a Mormon Temple is required in order to progress to the highest kingdom of heaven where Mormons believe they can achieve Godhood. So, Mormons with Temple Recommends are viewed as superior Mormons who are well on their way to becoming Gods. This, perception is used by Mormon scammers to gain the confidence of their victims. “Though considered private, the recommend can add another layer of trust to those who attain it…But a recommend doesn’t guarantee business scruples. Last year, Val Southwick pleaded guilty to Utah’s largest swindle ever, cheating investors, many of them Mormon out of $180 million. Southwick ‘showed his LDS temple recommend, or mentioned its existence and his office contains LDS ‘memorabilia,’ all of which appeared designed to breed a sense of trust between Southwick and investors,’ according to a February 2008 investigation summary from the Utah Division of Securities.”

Reading this article brought to mind previous scams and the unpleasant reality that my own parents were swindled out of much of their retirement by a scam hatched in Salt Lake City. My father cashed in his retirement with the State of Arizona and invested it in a pyramid scheme that he was introduced into through his Mormon Church associations. He lost it all and ended up having to work well into his 70’s to try and buy some of it back.

Helen and I did a TV show on our “Truth Outreach” program on this very topic in February 2003: “Salt Lake City is Scam Central.” The program began by talking about a Denver Post article dated May 8, 1983, which states, “In the past two years, Utah has become a haven for con artists” (as reported in The Utah Evangel, August 1983). The article addresses Utah scams and the problem with Utah bankruptcies. In 1983, Utah had the highest bankruptcy per capita filing in the U.S. Looking in my file marked, “scams,” I found that Utah was number 1 in bankruptcies for 2003, 2004, and 2006, with a 3rd place showing in 2005.

Isn’t it amazing that the state that, as of November 2008, was 60.4% Mormon, and being that the Mormon Church claims of itself that it is “the only true and living church on the face of the whole earth,” would have such a problem with moral turpitude? The Utah Evangel, August 1983, article quotes “Utah Attorney General Wilkison ‘a high-ranking church leader’ agrees that Utah is ‘the scam capital of the world.’” For those who claim that all of Christianity is in a fallen state of apostasy, and only they have the truth. If Mormons have the truth, why is Utah the scam capital of the world?