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True Believers; Hot Rocks; Breach of Faith

Aired August 6, 2000 - 9:00 p.m. ET



Tonight, "True Believers": She grew up playing soccer and classical piano, he graduated from law school -- not your idea of modern-day white supremacists? Think again.


MATTHEW HALE, FOUNDER, WORLD CHURCH OF THE CREATOR: Everybody hates. The problem, though, is that most people are too hypocritical to admit it.


ANNOUNCER: They're young, educated and upwardly mobile: Meet the new face of hate in America.

"Hot Rocks": Do these boiling, bubbling pools really hold the secrets to life here on Earth and beyond?


SHERRY CADY, ASTROBIOLOGIST: It's the kind of discovery that I think just overwhelms you.


ANNOUNCER: For this innovator, a new science, a new theory and thousands of new possibilities.


CADY: It's an adventure. I know some of what I'm going to find, but I don't know everything I'm going to find.


ANNOUNCER: "Breach of Faith": They were told God and money go hand in hand.


REV. DON HALL, GREATER MINISTRIES INTERNATIONAL CHURCH: It's just as simple as this. Put money in God's hand, and God gives it back to you double.


ANNOUNCER: But that divine promise may have been too good to be true.


ARAM ROSTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Half the money that was taken could be missing?

THOMAS KREBS, LAWYER: Could be missing. Yes.

ROSTON: Missing as in stolen?



ANNOUNCER: CNN & TIME, with Jeff Greenfield and Bernard Shaw.

BERNARD SHAW, CO-HOST: Good evening, and thanks for joining us.

Just a few years ago, hardly anyone had ever heard of the World Church of the Creator, let alone its 20-something leader, Matthew Hale. But that all changed last summer, when Benjamin Smith, one of Hale's followers, went on a three-day shooting spree through Illinois and Indiana. Before Smith took his own life in July 4th, his campaign of racial violence claimed two lives and injured nine others. It also gave Hale and his white supremacist group a national platform.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CO-HOST: It's not surprising that the World Church of the Creator has grown more visible since Benjamin Smith's rampage a year ago, but it's not just its visibility that has grown, so has its membership.

According to a new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the World Church has nearly doubled its number of chapters nationwide. The center, which monitors hate crimes, says that Matthew Hale's organization is now a magnet for young, volatile white supremacists. That's why we want to revisit our report on Hale, his church and the changing face of his disciples.

Here's Art Harris.


ART HARRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In an attic office in Peoria, Illinois, amidst the strains of Mozart, 20-year-old Christine Weiss (ph) is part of a movement preparing for a racial holy war.

CHRISTINE WEISS, MEMBER, WORLD CHURCH OF THE CREATOR: I really don't think I should have to have any tolerance for anybody. I'm not saying different, I care about my own kind and that's it, you know.

HARRIS (on camera): White people?

WEISS: White people. I care about white people.

HARRIS (voice-over): She grew up in a well-to-do Chicago suburb, graduated from New Trier (ph) High School, one of the best in the country.

WEISS: I played soccer. I played classical piano for 11 years.

HARRIS: Yet Weiss is part of a trend that baffles experts: affluent, educated, young people joining hate groups.

WEISS: I've always had pride in my heritage. I'm third generation in this country, and my culture always meant something more to me, probably, than maybe some other people did. And I really wanted to make sure that my people are -- stay around, so, you know, I'm fighting for that now.

HARRIS: After high school, she abandoned her Episcopal roots for the World Church of the Creator, led by 27-year-old Matthew Hale.

(on camera): What do they call you?

HALE: Pontifix Maximus. That's the Latin title that the Pope uses too, as well, from ancient Rome.

HARRIS: Isn't that a little pretentious, a little wacky?

HALE: No, because we are founding -- we founded this church, of course, out of nothingness. One day it will rule the world. So, it's not pretentious at all.

HARRIS (voice-over): The Anti-Defamation League, which monitors extremists, says Hale's following has grown from fewer than 100 people in 1996 to nearly 1,000 today. It calls his white supremacy group one of the fastest growing in the country.

HALE: I think everyone does hate, including I. Everybody hates. The problem though is that most people are too hypocritical to admit it.

HARRIS: Hale admires Adolf Hitler, and says he became a racist at age 12 when he saw an interracial couple at a dance in Peoria.

HALE: I saw a black kissing a white girl.

HARRIS (on camera): That made you...

HALE: Nauseous.


HALE: Yes. Not where I would throw up, but it was disgusting to me to see. And that strong reaction has kept within my mind ever since. HARRIS (voice-over): The son of a Peoria police officer, Hale graduated from law school, but was denied a law license because of his beliefs, racist views he's fine-tuned to attract young people like Weiss.

HARRIS (on camera): How do you feel about Hitler? What do you know about him?

WEISS: I think he was one of the greatest men who ever walked the face of the earth.


WEISS: Because he was the first person to really establish a white -- a government based on race, when the -- for the best interest of his own people, and he stuck up -- he stood up for it and gave his life for it.

HARRIS: How do you feel that he had small children killed?

WEISS: What kind of children? Jewish children? Well, I think I'm not -- I don't know. I'd rather not answer that question because, you know, there's not really...

HARRIS: Also children who weren't perfect, children who had some disabilities were killed, Gypsy children.

WEISS: What do you want me to shed a tear for them, or something? That's not going to happen.

HARRIS (voice-over): Weiss's former boyfriend, Benjamin Smith, was also a disciple of Matthew Hale. Smith was 21 years old, the son of a doctor. He attended the same high school as Weiss and went on to college.

HALE: I liked Ben. Ben was no psycho. To my knowledge, he was no bad person.

HARRIS: Early last month, Smith went on a shooting rampage in Illinois and Indiana, targeting blacks, Jews and Asians. He killed two people and wounded nine others before killing himself.

Devan Burkhardt (ph) had been keeping an eye on Smith for two years. He heads the Center for the New Community, a Chicago organization that he says monitors 270 extremist groups in the Midwest. Burkhardt says Matthew Hale's groups is one of the most successful in drawing members of Generation X to white supremacy.

DEVAN BURKHARDT, CENTER FOR THE NEW COMMUNITY: It's not, you know, the traditional targets that we think about, in terms of recruiting for white supremacist, those being disenfranchised, alienated, white working-class folks. In this instance, they're targeting young, well-educated, often from affluent households, kids who are preparing themselves, in this case, to prepare for a racial holy war.

HARRIS: Over the July 4 weekend, when Burkhardt heard about the shootings, he suspected Benjamin Smith.

BURKHARDT: We contacted law enforcement, let them know of how Benjamin Smith fit our profile.

PAUL GOLDENBERG (ph), FORMER HATE CRIME INVESTIGATOR: Amazingly enough, the best intelligence on organized hate groups comes from private groups

HARRIS: Paul Goldenberg is a former hate crime investigator for the New Jersey attorney general. He says law enforcement's ability to investigate these groups is limited.

GOLDENBERG: In the '60s and '70s, there was a concern that federal state and local law enforcement agencies were abusing their powers. The collection and gathering of information, the surveillance of Americans, the wiretapping of Americans, it was of great concern; therefore, the courts state-by-state and federally curtailed this type of activity. However, it directly impacted the investigation of organized groups.

HARRIS: Now, the FBI can only investigate hate groups when it has reason to believe the group is connected to criminal activity.

BURKHARDT: It's not illegal to hate someone.

GOLDENBERG: The active hate groups today are very successful cloaking themselves behind the First Amendment.

HALE: That's one of the reasons I went to law school, was to protect our people, protect our interests, to ensure that our rights are upheld every way I can within the system. Now, if someone is investigated simply because they're a member of our church, we have a serious problem with that. That becomes a civil rights violation against us.

WEISS: Well, we're normal people. We just choose to fight for something we really believe in, and that's fighting for the white race.

HARRIS: Experts who monitor extremists say the number of hate groups is growing. And they cannot explain why, at a time when the economy is booming, they say people normally look for scapegoats in hard times.

GOLDENBERG: People are working. Unemployment numbers are low. People are coming off welfare. The face of the nation -- things are looking very good. That's what makes this even more ironic.

T.J. LEYDEN, SIMON WIESENTHAL CENTER: When I was younger, I was a street soldier. I was out there attacking, beating people up, went to jail quite often. I have 29 racist tattoos on my body.

HARRIS: T.J. Leyden (ph) is a former Skinhead and anti-Semite. He now works preaching tolerance at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. LEYDEN: What really got me out was my children. I have two young sons. And I started seeing them do a lot of certain things that I thought were kind of scary. Basically, I was raising them to be the next generation of haters.

HARRIS: Leyden says that any kid with a computer has easy access to hate. And he's especially worried about the Web sites that espouse Matthew Hale's racist views, although Hale says he doesn't control every site.

LEYDEN: There's one that's called the World Church of the Creator for Kids. Your kid can go on and do a crossword puzzle. He can download things and then do coloring. He can make a coloring book for white power. And it's basically an indoctrination for your 6- and 7-year-olds, who's probably getting on the Net now.

HARRIS: One Web site referred to RaHoWa, "racial holy war," and showed two cartoon characters machine gunning the pope.

At the time of the Oklahoma City bombing, watchdog groups were aware of only one hate site on the Internet. Today, their estimates range from 350 sites to more than 2,000.

LEYDEN: The Internet is like the most advanced thing. It's probably the greatest thing that's ever happened to the racist movement.

HARRIS: Christine Weiss says she first learned about Matthew Hale's racist beliefs on the Internet while in high school.

WEISS: I wanted to find it, and that's where it was easy -- most easily accessible.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ever check out a Web site of hate...


HARRIS: That's why Leyden now fights to keep kids from going down the same path. He uses MTV to counter hate's flashy rhetoric on the Web.


LEYDEN: ... because for 15 years of my life I was a neo-Nazi white supremacist, promoting intolerance and hatred. Hate is not empowering. Hate got me nowhere.


LEYDEN: If you're a kid and say you're living in Sioux City, Iowa, you're one racist in a small town. Don't have many friends, don't get along with anybody, you go home and sit down in front of that computer. Well, guess what? You've got four friends in L.A., two in Chicago, six in Miami, five in Germany, three in Australia. You're part of a global society. You've got friends around the world now that care about you and love you. You're in a virtual world. And you want that virtual world of the white power.

All you see is love and devotion and caring about you to become part of the real society. And maybe you snap and you go around and start killing people.

HARRIS: Hale denies that his movement endorses violence. Yet he still admires Benjamin Smith.

(on camera): Did Ben Smith die a hero?

HALE: He certainly did die a martyr for free speech for white people in this country.

HARRIS: A murderer in your mind is a martyr?

HALE: Well, when you have a system that persecutes people for standing up for their race, we would consider those people martyrs -- yes.

WEISS: He never compromised what he believed in whatsoever. He was everything, and basically his whole life revolved around, you know, our cause.

HARRIS: Do you, in any way, feel responsible for what happened?

HALE: No, not at all.


HALE: For the same reasons that the pope doesn't feel responsible when someone bombs an abortion clinic. No one ever tries to argue he's responsible.


GREENFIELD: Two young men targeted by Benjamin Smith are suing Matthew Hale. A lawyer for the men says that Hale ordered the shootings last year and that he should be considered a conspirator. Hale calls the accusations ridiculous.

ANNOUNCER: Coming up, the man behind this multimillion-dollar smile.


ROMESH RATNESAR, "TIME" CORRESPONDENT: He is not someone who is motivated, and has never been motivated, by money.


ANNOUNCER: As CNN & TIME continues.


SHAW: When is a rock not just a rock? When that rock is teeming with life.


CADY: I had a little funny feeling in my stomach. It was like I was seeing a new world.


SHAW: The unexpected, as a pioneer takes a closer look.


CADY: It wasn't that I wasn't accepting the theory. I went there with an open mind.

Now it's quite quiet.


SHAW: An innovative approach to one of life's biggest mysteries, ahead on CNN & TIME.

ANNOUNCER: But next, the Tiger Woods you don't know...


DAN GOODGAME, "TIME" CORRESPONDENT: "Humble" is not a word I associate with Tiger Woods.


ANNOUNCER: ... when CNN & TIME continues.


SHAW: He has game like no other. And he always seems to win in the most spectacular fashion. At 24, he is a legend who has literally driven past Michael Jordan to become the biggest phenom in sports. Who is he? Who else? Tiger Woods.

How he does what he does in tonight's "Dispatches."


RATNESAR: There are a lot of stories that sometimes seem apocryphal, or at least a little bit hard to believe, but there's every reason to believe that -- that they're true, given Tiger's success. His father says that he first picked up a golf club when he was 10 months old. He swung it left-handed, with a left-handed grip. And it wasn't until two weeks later that he realized he was swinging it the wrong way. He changed his grip to a right-handed grip, stepped up to the ball and smacked it into the net.

At age 2, he won a putting contest against Bob Hope on "The Mike Douglas Show."


BOB HOPE, ENTERTAINER: Rap it right in there!


RATNESAR: He shot under 50 for nine holes at the age of 3.

GOODGAME: Tiger Woods, since he was in elementary school, has had Jack Niklaus's career accomplishments tacked up on a piece of paper on his wall in his room. Jack Niklaus won 18 professional major championships, and that's a mark that for a long time people have thought would probably never be equalled. Now, Jack Niklaus himself, who I talked to, says he thinks that Tiger Woods will probably, if he stays healthy -- will probably eventually surpass that record.

"Humble" is not a word I associate with Tiger Woods. I mean, I think he works very hard to be a polite person, to be considerate. But this is an extremely confident young man, to the point of cocky, which is part of his success.

RATNESAR: He has the most -- highest number of endorsements, the most lucrative deals. But he is not someone who's motivated by money. He's very much focused on golf.


TIGER WOODS, PRO GOLFER: I knew what I had to do today, and I went out there with a purpose to play, and I did it.


GOODGAME: Right after his, you know, terrific victory in the Master's back in 1997-- this was his first victory in a major professional tournament. He won it going away, by a record margin of 12 strokes. He was on top of the world. And how does he respond? He goes home, watches videotapes of himself at the tournament, studies them, and then he says, You know, my swing really isn't very good. And he calls his swing coach and says, I want to make serious changes.

Now, that's the kind of young man that he is. That's the kind of competitor that he is.


ERNIE ELS, PROFESSIONAL GOLFER: He's 24 years old, and we just said good-bye to Jack Niklaus. He's 60. So I mean, we're probably in deep trouble right now if he -- you know, if you want to know the honest truth.


GOODGAME: Woods has an effect on the other players that I think is comparable to the effect that Michael Jordan had on people who tried to defend him in the -- in the NBA. He intimidates them. Some of them have actually admitted that they feel like they're playing for second place. He transcends the sport, first of all, again, because of his performance, but also because he's a terrific entertainer. He hits the ball so far. People turn out to see that. Even -- even people who don't know the subtleties of golf can appreciate, you know, a 370- yard drive, which he'll uncork a couple of times during a round.


ANNOUNCER: For more on Tiger Woods, read "Time" magazine this week.

Next: discovery and danger.


CADY: If you fell in completely and went under the water, I think the best you could hope for is that you would never come up.


ANNOUNCER: Risking it all to answer the ultimate question when CNN & TIME continues.


GREENFIELD: Welcome back to CNN & TIME.

What face do we put with scientific genius? Think Albert Einstein, think Charles Darwin and you're probably thinking gray hair, senior citizen. But the truth is that pathbreakers usually achieve their greatest breakthroughs while still in their 30s and 40s, and that includes Einstein and Darwin.

So to get an idea of who may be tomorrow's cutting-edge scientists, it stands to reason that you would look to those in the most creative phase of their careers, to up-and-coming researchers like Sherry Cady.

As David Lewis reports, our latest innovator finds life in the most unlikely places.


DAVID LEWIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over); Four times a year, Sherry Cady hauls a 30-pound pack as much as nine miles into the back country of Yellowstone National Park, braving the heat of summer and four feet of snow in the dead of winter.

CADY: It's an adventure. I know some of what I'm going to find, but I don't know everything I'm going to find. And I know every time I go there, I'm going to learn something new.

LEWIS: Cady is a pioneer in a new branch of science called astrobiology...

CADY: Oh, I see a lot of bubbles coming up. LEWIS: ... the study of the origins of life, on Earth and, in the future, on the other planets.

CADY: We don't know how life gets started, but I think the pursuit of these types of questions is important for us, just as a human race. We need to know more about where we came from, and there's no reason to restrict that search just here on Earth.

LEWIS: Because Yellowstone straddles a volcanic hotspot, its unique landscape is the perfect laboratory for astrobiologists. Old Faithful is the park's best-known feature, but there are other geysers, plus mud pots, steam vents and hot springs that bubble with methane, arsenic and sulfur gas. Half the geothermal sites in the world are here, 10,000 of them, sites that resemble what Earth looked like billions of years ago when the first life forms, microbes, emerged.

CADY: We know that if we took a scene like this and we took away all of the -- all of the life forms except for the microbial communities that are living in the hot spring ecosystem, that would represent an early Earth ecosystem.

LEWIS: The ecosystem here is teeming with primordial life. In the shallow water, the red and yellow colors are colonies of bacteria that give off oxygen, which helped create our atmosphere millions of years ago. In the deep water, the hottest part of the pools, are bacteria even more primitive, some of the earliest life forms.

(on camera): So what you're saying is, is my great, great, great, great, great, great, great whatever was a microbe?

CADY: Yes. Yes. Unfortunately, yes.


(voice-over): And since early Mars was like early Earth, we may have distant microbial cousins there.

CADY: That's what we would like to find on Mars. That's what I would love to find on Mars.

LEWIS: With a special permit from the National Park Service, Cady is allowed to collect samples from the hot springs at Yellowstone, where the water is near boiling and can be 15 feet deep, a great danger.

(on camera): So do you talk about that with your colleagues, about what would happen if you fell in here?

CADY: I have, yeah.

LEWIS: Well, what do you say to them?

CADY: I -- it would be my preference, if I went all the way under in a near-boiling pool, to never come back up because I think it would be a horrible death and not one that I would wish on anyone, particularly myself.

LEWIS (voice-over): Science was not the career she expected growing up in small-town Wisconsin.

CADY: My aspirations when I was growing up were to help people that were less fortunate than I was.

LEWIS: After high school, she went to a junior college near home, then later struck out on her own to California. Because she worked full-time to support herself, she went to college part-time.

CADY: It turned out, when I went to school, the classes that kept me the most interested were the science classes, and I continued to pursue that.

LEWIS: At the University of California Berkeley, she found her niche, geology. It took 12 years to get her degree, but she graduated with honors. Along the way, she developed a passion for the tedious detective work of scientific research.

CADY: I think it's the kind of joy that can make time disappear. I think it's the kind of joy that allows you to sit and work harder than you've ever worked before without realizing it.

LEWIS: After earning her Ph.D., Cady was recruited by scientists from NASA to the Ames Research Center. Before long, she was sent to Yellowstone in what was supposed to be a routine mission to collect pieces of rock from the hottest part of the hot springs. Everyone assumed the rocks would show no evidence of bacterial life. That's what previous studies had shown, that bacteria were only in the water, not in the rocks. But Cady did something no scientist had done before. She collected her rock samples in a way that would preserve microbial life, just in case it was there.

(on camera): I mean, it was accepted theory for 25 years. I mean, what drove you to say, you know, I'm not going to accept that theory, I'm going to go test it myself?

CADY: It wasn't that I wasn't accepting the theory. I went there with an open mind.

LEWIS (voice-over): With her samples back at the lab, she examined the rocks under a highly sensitive electron microscope magnified 20,000 times.

CADY: I had a little funny feeling in my stomach that maybe we were seeing something that we hadn't anticipated.

LEWIS: Instead of just seeing particles of inanimate rock, Cady discovered bacteria living in a thin, slimy film on the rocks.

CADY: And I was just very, very motivated to continue to keep working on those rocks. It was like I was seeing a new world.

LEWIS: The bacteria seemed to attract particles of minerals, which in turn offered a home for a new layer of bacteria. Think of a primeval dessert.

(on camera): So it's like a layer cake -- you know, chocolate, microbe, this silica -- I mean...

CADY: Yes. Yes, it is. Mineral, microbe, mineral, microbe.

LEWIS (voice-over): And when the microbes were entombed in the rock, they formed microscopic fossils.

CADY: It's the kind of discovery that I think just overwhelms you.

LEWIS: Imagine finding a footprint in the sand of what everyone thought was a deserted island. Sherry Cady had discovered footprints of early life, a biological signature that scientists can also look for in rocks from Mars.

DAVID DESMARAIS, NASA SCIENTIST: She has found in a hot spring a process going on that's equivalent to the process that makes petrified wood. We now have petrified microorganisms occurring in an environment which we expect to be able to explore on Mars.

CHRIS MCKAY, NASA SCIENTIST: If we could go to another planet and find another example of biology, a separate genesis, a separate biochemistry, we might learn an enormous amount of information that could have incredible relevance to medicine, agriculture, biological sciences in general.

LEWIS: Riding a wave of success from her discovery, Cady was soon promoted from a lowly researcher to a principal investigator. And a year ago, she accepted her current position at Portland State University in Oregon. Grant money is flowing in, almost $600,000 from NASA and the National Science Foundation, money that's sending her not only to Yellowstone but also to projects in New Zealand and British Columbia.

Cady is acutely aware that discoveries like the ones she made in Yellowstone raise a thousand new questions, and a wrong answer could destroy her credibility.

CADY: We don't want to be fooled. We want to make sure that we really know how to find evidence of life in these types of rocks. And we need to get our strategies right on Earth before we go to some place like Mars.

LEWIS: To get it right, Cady now has to understand everything that affects the relationship between the microbes and the minerals, from the temperature to the other chemicals in the water. She dreams of some day getting her hands on Martian rocks and looking for signs of life inside them, even if that life is just bacteria.

CADY: If all they found was evidence of bacterial life, that would be wonderful because what that would mean is that life did emerge someplace else besides Earth.

LEWIS: But until she has a rock from a Martian hot spring, she'll have to make do with Yellowstone's bubbling pools of primitive goo, pools that keep attracting scientists despite their repulsive smell.

CADY: It smells like rotten eggs. But when I get that first whiff of it, it reminds me of Yellowstone. It's the smell of research. I'm here. I'm in a beautiful environment. Who could ask for a better job?


GREENFIELD: It doesn't look like Sherry Cady will be getting her hands on those Martian rocks any time soon. Though NASA does plan to return to the Red Planet in 2003, the mission does not include rock or soil recovery.

And if you'd like to know more about astrobiology and the search for the origins of life, log onto and join our online discussion with Sherry Cady right after the show.

ANNOUNCER: Coming up, it was sold as a financial deal straight from heaven.


HALL: Everybody realize that God has put in position a gold mine here for you.


ANNOUNCER: But the dividends were anything but divine.


THOMAS KREBS, LAWYER: This is a scam. This is not a ministry. This is about raising money.


ANNOUNCER: As CNN & TIME continues.


ANNOUNCER: Next, they promised to feed the soul and fill the wallet.

HALL: He said, Blessed are the poor in heart, not pocketbook.

ANNOUNCER: But was it about God or greed?

KREBS: They raised a lot of money by lying, but it also is in violation of the law. And I might add, they violate another law, and it says Thou shalt not steal. That's exactly what they did.



SHAW: The promise was simple: Give and you shall receive -- and receive. But those who gave to the Greater Ministries Church say all they got was taken. Now Greater Ministries' leaders face a myriad of charges, including fraud and money laundering. Their trial is scheduled to begin next month.

As Greater Ministries prepares to go to court, we want to take another look at Aram Roston's report on this alleged breach of faith.


ROSTON (voice-over): Religious fervor filled the interfaith church in Louisiana that night. Then the visiting group of ministers got down to business.

HALL: Listen, God never intended for His church to be poor. He said blessed are the poor in heart, not pocketbook.

ROSTON: Reverend Don Hall asked the audience to put money into his church, Greater Ministries International, based in a former bank building in Tampa, Florida.

HALL: It's not as hard as it looks. It's just as simple as this. Put money in God's hand, and God gives it back to you double.

ROSTON: Greater Ministries' plan promised to send back twice as much in monthly installments and said it was guaranteed in the Bible in Luke 6:38, Give and it shall be given on to you.

In rented auditoriums and hotel ballrooms, Greater Ministries spread the word. The church documented much of what it did on videotapes obtained by CNN & TIME.

REV. GERALD PAYNE, GREATER MINISTRIES INTERNATIONAL CHURCH: And I said, Lord, would you tell it to me one more time?

ROSTON: The church founder, Reverend Gerald Payne, said he personally spoke to God about his double-your-money program, and God confirmed that the deal would last until the end of time.

PAYNE: He said that the Feds can't stop it. Wow! And I said, Hallelujah.

KREBS: The amounts taken...

ROSTON: Church records show thousands of people across the country sent a total of nearly $500 million to Greater Ministries.

KREBS: This is a scam. This is not a ministry. This is about raising money.

ROSTON: Attorney Thomas Krebs is the former securities commissioner in Alabama. He was hired by regulators in Ohio and Alabama to sue the church and search for the money. KREBS: We don't know how much is missing. We don't know precisely how much has been taken.

ROSTON (on camera): What is your guess?

KREBS: My guess is it may be anywhere from $250 million to $100 million has gone missing here, is unaccounted for.

ROSTON: Two hundred fifty million dollars? In other words, half the money that was taken could be missing?

KREBS: Could be missing. Yeah.

ROSTON: Missing as in stolen?


ROSTON (voice-over): Gerald Payne is a former repairman and house painter who once pleaded guilty to a dozen counts of perjury. He incorporated Greater Ministries in 1993. One month later, he was ordained by his own church.

Greater Ministries belonged to no denomination. The former bank lobby was the sanctuary, with a few dozen people in attendance. Out of sight behind the cross was the bank vault. Still in use but for church business. Upstairs in what the church called the counting room, contributors described tables covered up to a foot deep in hundred-dollar bills.

HALL: How many is being tired of being busted and disgusted and you want God to give you a miracle financially?

ROSTON: The night Greater Ministries came to New Iberia deep in Cajun in Louisiana, Wayne Byard (ph) was in the congregation.

WAYNE BYARD, FORMER GREATER MINISTRIES CONGREGATION MEMBER: I trusted people that -- you know, that knew God, you know, knew Jesus Christ, knew the Bible.

ROSTON: Byard builds commercial fishing boats for a living. He has six children. To put $40,000 into Greater Ministries, he had to take out a mortgage on his home.

BYARD: Then I put on the -- the cowboy boots.

ROSTON: He stuffed the cash in his boots to take it to Greater Ministries in Tampa.

BYARD: I thought it was a little better than putting it in my shirt pocket.

ROSTON: In the church office, Byard met Gerald Payne.

BYARD: At the time, I told him I had mortgaged my home for it, and he said -- he said, I wouldn't recommend anybody to do anything that I wouldn't do. KREBS: They would tell people to mortgage their homes. They would tell them to max out on their credit cards. They would tell them to cash in their 401(k)s.

ROSTON: Greater Ministries said the money was going into currency trading, real estate, and hunting for gold. It called the plan Christian Social Security.

HALL: Haven't you realized that God has put in position a gold mine here for you?

PAYNE: Welcome to Liberia.

ROSTON: The church even videotaped overseas trips. It poured millions in believers' money into the African nation of Liberia. This is where the church began to dig for gold. Payne and Hall bragged they had unearthed a fortune.

HALL: There is a place there just 15 feet below the ground that has a vein of gold in it.

PAYNE: We -- we just found out the other day that -- that we hit a diamond mine when we was looking for gold. Let's hear it. Hallelujah! Glory to God.

ROSTON: For nearly a decade, the church made its payments to those who wanted to cash out. It never explained exactly how.

PAYNE: Have you seen the financial statement of Greater Ministries? You never will. You wouldn't believe it anyway.

KREBS: You can't stand up in front of people and say, We have $40 billion in gold 15 feet under the ground. I mean, if they had $40 billion, we wouldn't be here now. They never had it.

ROSTON (on camera): Investigators now say there were no lucrative stock deals, no diamonds, no currency trades, and no mines that produced any gold.

KREBS: Last week's investor was paid with this week's investors' money. They had no income-producing assets. How can you double money when you don't have any income coming in other than the principal? The only way to do that is to be paying the people who came in yesterday with today's money.

ROSTON: And what's that called when you do that?

KREBS: That's a Ponzi scheme.

ROSTON (voice-over): Charles Eidson was the legal adviser for Greater Ministries, even though he's not a lawyer.

(on camera): How were they able to raise that cash?

CHARLES EIDSON, FORMER LEGAL ADVISER FOR GREATER MINISTRIES: I was never -- that always mystified me. I don't know. I can't answer that question.

ROSTON: So was it a Ponzi scheme?

EIDSON: No, I wouldn't call it a Ponzi scheme. No.

ROSTON: In that people who give first are paid back with people who give later.

EIDSON: Well, see, that's a tenet of a free-market economy. That's true with anything you look at.

ROSTON (voice-over): Eidson is now serving almost five years in prison after a fraud conviction for illegally dumping waste oil. He once ran his own Church of the Avenger. It had a white separatist creed and displayed Nazi symbols on its storefront building in Tampa.

EIDSON: We referred to the government as being Zionist- controlled. We -- we think our government is very much that.

PAYNE: You need to take this government back, by the way.

ROSTON (voice-over): Anti-government rhetoric helped bring in even more contributors to Greater Ministries.

EIDSON: The question at hand to the American people is: Are we going to sit here and let the government tell us the rules and regulations of our religions?

ROSTON: To avoid government regulation, the church insisted that the money was a gift rather than an investment.

HALL: Look at it this way. You're giving to God. God is going to have to double your money. Not me. I'm afraid I'd have to let you down.

ROSTON: When Byard was let down, he got back only part of his money. A year ago, having a hard time paying bills, Byard asked the church to return it all.

BYARD: They told us they would give it back if we had a financial problem. I wrote them a letter, and they drew a funny face on my letter, and they just kept our money. No morals. You know, they don't have any morals, you know, people who do something like that, you know, after taking your money.

KREBS: And $11,750.

ROSTON: Like Byard, many contributors faced painful losses.

KREBS: Two hundred and seventy-one thousand. A hundred thirty- three thousand.

ROSTON (on camera): So how many people are there?

KREBS: There are 19,000 in this one. Pennsylvania. Oregon. Ohio. Oklahoma. California. ROSTON: Are these all victims?


ROSTON: All of these?

KREBS: These are victims. Yes.

ROSTON (voice-over): The paper trail indicates church elders were receiving a 5-percent commission for recruiting contributors. Some months as much as $2 million came off the top. It was listed in the files as GAS money.

KREBS: Gerald Payne would often tell his people that, If you have faith, then God will get you to the objective and give you the GAS money to get there. Maybe that's the source of it. We think that here it means Get Another Sucker.

ROSTON: Get Another Somebody.

KREBS: Get Another Sucker.


KREBS: Yeah.

ROSTON (voice-over): In the fall of 1998, as the FBI was closing in, Don Hall warned church elders to keep quiet about the GAS money.

HALL: We're not supposed to advertise that you're getting any kind of gifts or GAS money for getting that person into the program.

ROSTON: One elder suggested this.

UNIDENTIFIED GREATER MINISTRIES ELDER: I tell the folks that we travel, we have meetings, and Greater reimburses for travel expenses and leave it at that.

ROSTON: Church records list $43,000 next to Hall's initials that month, $21,000 next to Payne's initials. That same month, the church stopped paying contributions when $20 million of its deposits were lost in a bank failure.

Last March, a federal grand jury indicted Gerald Payne, his wife, Don Hall, and four others on fraud and conspiracy charges. All have pleaded innocent.

In church, Hall mocked the government's case.

HALL: The prosecutor himself spoke with his own mouth and said they're always a step ahead of him. Hallelujah. Somebody say glory. He was telling the judge that, for nine years, he couldn't do anything, and he still can't. He's a devil talking with his teeth pulled.

ROSTON: One week after the indictment, Greater Ministries went shopping for a Caribbean island off the coast of Honduras. When Payne told his elders about the island, he used the word "escape."

PAYNE: There's going to be enough to -- should this go down real bad here in the U.S., will it be enough to escape to? I think so.

ROSTON: Payne addressed this letter to the president of Honduras proposing to establish a sovereign Christian state known as Greaterlands of the Kingdom of Heaven wherein the Christian people control its own banking, trade, security forces, and governmental affairs.

KREBS: They were attempting to set up their own country. They were attempting to become Vatican-like. Greater Ministries, the Vatican. Gerald Payne, Pope Gerald. That's what it looks like to us.

ROSTON: Payne hinted to the elders that secret riches were buried on the island.

PAYNE: There's a whole fortune there, and it's all -- and it's mostly all gold.

ROSTON: In August, a federal judge ordered U.S. marshals to seize the church and all its asset in a lawsuit brought by state regulators. The judge ruled Greater Ministries and its leaders had committed fraud under the cloak of religion. In Payne's office were a few bars of silver and a handful of Krugerrands. In the church vault, only $40,000.

(on camera): How can that much money disappear?

KREBS: How much money can you get in a briefcase? How much money cash can you stack in a foot locker? How much money can you hide in the walls of your house? I don't know.

ROSTON (voice-over): Payne lives modestly in a house he bought three decades ago for $11,000. Both Payne and Hall declined requests for interviews, but, in a letter to CNN & TIME, Payne wrote the plan was successful for nine years until the government interfered with the church's work.

KREBS: They raised a lot of money by lying, but it also was in violation of the law. And I might add, they violated the -- another law, and it says, Thou shalt not steal. That's exactly what they did. Thou shalt not bear false witness. That's exactly what they did. Now they can sit back and talk about Luke, but it seems to me they forgot the more important ones.


SHAW: Those who lost their homes taking part in Greater Minsitries' investment plan can take some solace in knowing the church leaders could soon lose the roof over their heads, too. A bankruptcy judge recently ordered property belonging to Reverend Payne and others to be turned over to a court-appointed trustee, who may sell the homes in order toi repay victims of Greater Ministries alleged scam.

That's this edition of CNN & TIME. I'm Bernard Shaw. Jeff, I'll see you next week.

GREENFIELD: Thank you, Bernie.

Coming up next, CNN's encore presentation of the documentary series "MILLENNIUM" continues.

I'm Jeff Greenfield. For everyone at CNN & TIME, good night.



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