Authorities have arrested a California pastor on charges that he conducted a foreign currency Ponzi scheme that defrauded more than seventy Spanish-speaking victims out of nearly $4 million. Luis Alonso Serna, 61, was charged with two counts of mail fraud, two counts of wire fraud and two counts of money laundering. Each of the mail fraud and wire fraud charges carries a maximum twenty-year prison sentence, while each money laundering charge carries a ten-year sentence.
Serna served as pastor of the Zion Living Word Christian Center in San Fernando. In addition to his position as pastor, Serna allegedly held himself out as an experienced foreign currency investor through his company, Architects of the Future Investments. Serna told potential investors that their funds would be used to purchase foreign currency, and promised investors monthly returns of up to twenty percent. In total, investors entrusted more than $7 million with Serna – of which nearly $4 million is alleged to have been lost.
However, according to authorities, Serna operated a Ponzi scheme in which he used new investor funds to pay fictitious returns to existing investors. The scheme collapsed when Serna was unable to satisfy monthly obligations to investors – which may have been difficult to sustain with Serna offering annual uncompounded returns of 240%.