To Amish and Mennonite communities in Ohio, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, Jason Gerald Shenk was a devout missionary spreading the word of God overseas. With their financial help, he would send Bibles and other Christian literature to China, where Christianity has long been curtailed by the Chinese Communist Party.
But for at least nine years, federal prosecutors said, Mr. Shenk has used more than $30 million in donations from those communities to fund his own lavish lifestyle — complete with diamonds and gold, sports gambling and a personal investment portfolio that includes properties in Santiago, Chile, as well as shares of a private nuclear energy company.
Federal prosecutors have issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Shenk, 45, for defrauding charities and individuals out of more than $30 million, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia said in a statement. A grand jury in Georgia indicted him on charges including four counts of wire fraud and over a dozen counts of money laundering, according to court documents unsealed on Tuesday.
A federal investigation into Mr. Shenk’s whereabouts is underway in conjunction with authorities in other countries, said Barry L. Paschal, a spokesman for the Southern District of Georgia. Prosecutors said Mr. Shenk renounced his citizenship in 2016 to avoid reporting his finances, and he is believed to be residing outside of the United States. It is not clear if Mr. Shenk has a lawyer.
A large number of the individual donors Mr. Shenk has been accused of defrauding were of the Amish and Mennonite communities in Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Ontario, Canada, Mr. Paschal said.
Mr. Shenk was charged in December and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. He would also have to forfeit any assets related to the offenses and would face “substantial financial penalties,” prosecutors said.
Jill E. Steinberg, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia, said in the statement that Mr. Shenk’s alleged actions were an egregious breach of trust.
“When people of faith donate money for evangelistic purposes, they reasonably expect those who solicit their donations to act as faithful stewards of those funds,” she said.
From April 2010 to July 2019, Mr. Shenk has been accused of orchestrating a complex scheme to redirect the Bible funds he received from charities for his personal use. According to the indictment, he concealed where the earnings were from by laundering them through bank accounts in Singapore, Hong Kong and the United States that were registered under shell companies in the British Virgin Islands, the Marshall Islands and the Samoan Islands.
Prosecutors said they found dozens of money transfers across numerous bank accounts that Mr. Shenk had made over the span of about three years. They believe the transfers were meant to hide the funds’ origins as donations from individuals and religious charities.
For nine years, Mr. Shenk acquired $22 million from one unnamed charity that donated money overseas to provide aid to poor families or those impacted by natural disasters, prosecutors said. He claimed he would use the funds to distribute Bibles in China, according to the indictment. Prosecutors said Mr. Shenk also obtained $10 million from another unnamed charity that supported victims of human trafficking and missionaries around the world with medical bills.
A number of individuals also donated directly to bank accounts controlled by Mr. Shenk, prosecutors added.
One bank account in Georgia affiliated with Mr. Shenk is owned by MorningStar Ministries, a Christian organization based in South Carolina, prosecutors said. Mr. Shenk, who, along with two relatives, was authorized to use the account, transferred over $1.5 million from the MorningStar Ministries bank to two accounts owned by his shell companies in Singapore, according to court documents. The two relatives were not indicted.
MorningStar Ministries, according to its website, organizes Christian conferences and events around the world. However, it is neither registered as a legal entity in Georgia nor a charity organization with the Internal Revenue Service, prosecutors said.
Neither Mr. Shenk nor members of his family could be reached for comment on Thursday. MorningStar Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The court will appoint a lawyer to Mr. Shenk once he is arrested and arraigned, said Mr. Paschal. Arraignments typically take place within a few weeks when a defendant is in the country, he added.
Chang Che is the Asia technology correspondent for The Times. He previously worked for The China Project and as a freelance writer covering Chinese technology and society. More about Chang Che
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