In what looks like another affinity fraud scheme targeting Plain Anabaptist people, the Department of Justice is seeking the arrest of a man who collected over $30 million over a decade-long span – telling donors the money was for Bibles and other Christian literature to be distributed in China.
Jason Gerald Shenk allegedly got at least some of his money (and perhaps most of it) from Amish and Mennonites, including in Holmes County, Ohio. The report at Cleveland 19 references the DOJ indictment in their report, but no mention of Amish or Mennonite victims appears in that document.
However, I have confirmed with someone at the DOJ that the victims “included members of the Amish and Mennonite communities”. So it sounds like it’s not strictly Amish and Mennonite, but they are included in the group (and are perhaps a majority). The surname Shenk is found among Mennonites.
Here is what Shenk is alleged to have done:
As spelled out in the indictment, Shenk is alleged to have planned and executed a scheme in which he obtained more than $30 million from faith-based charities and individual donors, primarily from religious communities in Ohio and North Carolina, based on his promises that he would use the funds for producing and distributing Bibles and Christian literature in the People’s Republic of China.
Instead, the indictment alleges Shenk converted a significant amount of the funds to his own use, including:
- Payments of approximately $1 million to an online sports gambling website;
- Purchases of equity shares of approximately $850,000 in a privately held nuclear energy company;
- Approximately $4 million in purchases of at least 16 life insurance policies in various people’s names;
- Purchases of diamonds, gold, and precious metals in amounts totaling approximately $1 million;
- Purchases of domestic and foreign stocks totaling more than $188,000;
- Payments of approximately $7 million to the company running Shenk’s family farm;
- Purchases on at least 10 personal credit cards totaling more than $820,000; and,
- Purchases of $320,000 in real estate in the “Galt’s Gulch” development in Santiago, Chile.
The indictment alleges Shenk obtained approximately $22 million from one charitable organization and its donors, and approximately $10 million from another charity and its donors, along with other donations from individuals. The funds were directed to a variety of shell corporations as a result of Shenk’s claims to those religious communities that he was a missionary dedicated to various Christian mission projects around the world and would use the funding to produce and distribute Bibles and Christian literature in China.
This sadly appears like it might be yet another case of affinity fraud, in which a member of a group takes advantage of others in the group, exploiting the trust and shared culture to defraud other members.
Amish and Mennonite people have fallen victim to similar schemes in the past, notably four major cases in the past 15 years. Those include the $60 milllion Sensenig financial scandal (operated by an Old Order Mennonite church member) and the multi-million dollar Ponzi-like scheme devised by Amish-born Earl D. Miller.
According to the indictment, “Shenk claimed alleged persecution from Chinese authorities to avoid oversight from the charities and to facilitate his scheme.” That is one way to stop people from asking too many questions.
Shenk is currently at large, described as the subject of an “international” search. It sounds like he is likely no longer in the country. Shenk renounced his American citizenship in 2016.
Companies Shenk Used
These are the companies which Shenk allegedly used to collect his donations:
Companies that served as conduits for these donations included Morning Star Ministries, with a bank account in Dublin, Ga.; Connect Connect Asia BV, with multiple bank accounts in Singapore; CLF Asia Limited, owner of a bank account in Hong Kong; Autumnvale Group Limited, owner of multiple bank accounts in Singapore; BCB International LLC, an entity registered in Georgia with bank accounts in the United States; Heartland Plantations LLC, an entity registered in Georgia with bank accounts in the United States; Global Paradigm LTD, an entity associated with bank accounts in the United States; and Shenkland LLC, an entity registered in North Carolina and owner of bank accounts in the United States.
The Department of Justice is hoping to reach anyone who may have been defrauded in this case. If you think you may have sent money to Shenk via one of the companies listed, or if you have information on Shenk’s whereabouts, you can reach federal authorities directly at 478-752-6810.
UPDATE – August 4: There were two charities named in the indictment, which Shenk is alleged to have taken funds from. They are kept anonymous as “Charity 1” and “Charity 2” in that document. I’ve been informed that Charity 1 is Christian Aid Ministries (confirmed by a source close to CAM).
This is not exactly breaking news from what I understand, and is public or becoming public now. I’ve also acquired a notice that has been produced by CAM regarding the case. Here is the full text of that notice, dated August 1:
Notice concerning literature distribution in a restricted country
As you know, some of the countries we work in are restricted and do not allow the Gospel to be preached or Bibles distributed freely. When we work in such countries, we use contacts that we believe can be trusted to use funds to promote the Gospel according to a plan we monitor to the degree possible. We want you to be aware of a development concerning the alleged fraudulent use of funds by a contact.
- We have been advised by the federal government that formal charges have been filed against one of the trusted contacts that we worked with in a restricted country for allegedly embezzling millions of dollars from several charities. If proven true, this alleged fraudulent activity would be a shock to us, considering the recommendations by others who worked with this contact and the long-term, trusted relationship we had with this contact, including many face-to-face meetings.
- In April of 2019, CAM was made aware that an investigation was taking place when we received a subpoena for business records, which we provided. Shortly thereafter, we ceased to use this contact to wait for the situation to be resolved.
- We are aware that our work in restricted countries exposes us to a certain amount of risk. We work to provide as much verification as possible, but recognize that an unscrupulous person could exploit our inability to independently verify their work as thoroughly as we can in open countries where our staff are able to visit and serve. The risk and vulnerability have understandably caused scrutiny of these programs by the Board and staff. The Board and management consistently determined that the opportunity to reach people who had very limited access to Bibles and Christian literature was worth the risk.
- God knows the factual details of this situation and will ultimately judge the matter correctly, regardless of the outcome of the investigation. If these funds were indeed misused as alleged, we sincerely apologize that this took place. Our heartfelt desire has been and continues to be that your funds be used to advance Christ’s everlasting kingdom.
We value your trust and we desire to continue to provide accountability as best we can in the projects and programs your funds help to support. CAM plans to continue to provide Bibles and Christian literature through various other contacts with which we work in restricted countries. We welcome your prayers for discernment as we process this situation and continue to seek ways to share the love of Christ in difficult parts of the world.
For the sake of keeping you informed,
CAM Board of Directors
August 1, 2023
PDF image of the notice: