Jason Shenk beseeched Christians for nearly a decade to open up their hearts and their wallets so that he could spread the word of God around the world, according to a recently unsealed indictment.
Those Christians answered the call, donating more than $33 million to Shenk for his global ministry, primarily for Bibles and other Christian literature he promised to distribute in China, the indictment states.
Instead, Shenk allegedly spent those millions on diamonds, gold, sports gambling, life insurance policies and real estate in South America.
Shenk, 45, is charged with four counts of wire fraud, 21 counts of money laundering, 13 counts of concealment of money laundering, three counts of international concealment of money laundering and one count of failure to file a report of a foreign bank account. In a 20-page indictment filed in the U.S. District Court for Southern Georgia in December but unsealed Tuesday, prosecutors accuse Shenk of "an egregious breach" of trust by preying on Christians' desire to do good and using it to swindle them.
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"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," U.S. attorney Jill Steinberg said in a news release.
No attorney is listed in court records for Shenk, who faces dozens of years in prison if convicted. Authorities consider him a fugitive and believe he's out of the country and on the run.
For nearly a decade, Shenk presented himself as a missionary dedicated to Christian projects around the world, including in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and China, among other countries, prosecutors wrote in the indictment.
Under that pretense, he allegedly obtained about $22 million from an organization identified in court documents as Charity 1. The Christian nonprofit receives donations to fund a variety of Christian ministry and outreach programs around the world, including those that provide food and clothing to needy families, give loans to poor people and rebuild homes and infrastructure after natural disasters, the indictment states. Charity 1 also raises money to fund a program dedicated to making and distributing Bibles and Christian literature in China.
An organization identified as Charity 2 also accepts donations it uses to evangelize internationally, according to the indictment. Those programs include giving money and providing health care to "needy children," paying medical bills for missionaries working abroad and paying to support human trafficking victims. Charity 2 also raised money for a program to make and distribute Bibles and Christian literature in China and allegedly gave Shenk roughly $10 million between 2010 and 2019 for that purpose.
In addition to the two charities, several individuals, primarily from religious communities in Ohio and North Carolina, also gave Shenk money for the program in China, the indictment alleges. Barry Paschal, a spokesperson with the U.S. attorney's office, said they hail mainly from Amish and Mennonite communities.
Court documents say Shenk was born in Georgia but don't say where he was living while he was soliciting donations.
Instead of Bibles, Shenk allegedly spent about $1 million on a sports gambling website that was eventually shut down because of fraud; roughly $850,000 on equity shares in a private U.S. nuclear energy company; nearly $1 million in diamonds, gold and other precious metals; more than $820,000 to pay down 10 personal credit cards; some $7 million in payments to the company that ran his family farm; and $320,000 on real estate in Santiago, Chile.
Shenk also allegedly purchased at least 16 life insurance policies in various people's names, totaling more than $4 million.
Shenk tried to cover his tracks, according to the complaint. It says he routed the money to myriad shell companies with bank accounts around the world to "conceal the nature of the transactions." To assuage the charities he was scamming, Shenk also sent spreadsheets with bogus statistics about how many Bibles had been distributed in various Chinese provinces, according to the indictment.
Through it all, Shenk lied to international banks about who he was and how much money he and his family members had, the indictment states.