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Churches In Bind Over What To Do With Money Alleged Ponzi Scheme Leaves Some Dangling, Others ‘Blessed’

Leaders of churches that benefited from an alleged Ponzi scheme, apparently on the burden of other churches, are finding themselves in a moral dilemma about what to do with their earnings.

Hundreds of churches and charity groups were entangled with New Era Philanthropy, whose leader, John G. Bennett is skimming $4.2 million for himself in an alleged scheme that used $100 million from new investors to pay off old investors.

Many of the newer investors were left dangling when New Era declared bankruptcy May 15.

Mercy Corps International, a Portland-based humanitarian emergency relief agency, has lost $100,000. CBAmerica, a national Conservative Baptist group, says it lost $500,000.

But some of the older investors collected “profits.”

Milwaukie First Baptist turned $279,900 into $559,800 between November 1993 and May 1994. It used most of that cash to start construction on a ministry center that will include a kitchen, gymnasium and classrooms.

Now church leaders are mulling over the question of what to do. Should First Baptist somehow return its gains to the bankruptcy court, which would then divvy it up among those who lost? Or should it consider itself blessed?

‘Somehow, we have to determine not only what is legal, but what is righteous,” the Rev. Loren Fischer said Friday.