‘God Fraud’ man convicted

A 50-year old Donegal farmer who “believed he was doing God’s work” when he took €177,000 off seven investors has been convicted of 26 charges.

A 50-year old Donegal farmer who “believed he was doing God’s work” when he took €177,000 off seven investors has been convicted of 26 charges.

A jury took just one hour and two minutes to decide yesterday afternoon that Thomas Elvin, Meencargagh, Ballybofey was guilty of 12 counts of acting as a business investment firm without authorisation and 14 counts of making profit or causing loss by deception. The offences took place on dates between December 2003 and March 2005 at locations in Donegal town, Ballybofey and Cloghan.

During the court case, which began last Thursday, emails were read out in which Thomas Elvin and an associate in Florida - Larry Marsella of Loan Doctors - spoked extensively of their strong Christian beliefs and their desire to “make money to do God’s work”. Elvin hoped that Marsella would make him $500m. He wrote “life would be a lot easier then” but he would “still be Thomas Elvin”. He knew that the two men could not do this one their own, but needed “the wisdom of God” and they would have to make “Our Lord Jesus our silent partner” in the venture. Marsella told Elvin he prayed to “God, Our Lord Jesus, all the saints and the angels” that he would make Elvin all the money he deserved.

Elvin’s victims included Darren Williamson, his mother Mavourneen, his sister Michelle and Daniel Ward - all of Donegal town and Fergus Herron of Cloghanmore, Clogher. Sharman Duncan of Donegal town and her late mother Elizabeth were deprived of their life savings of €102,000, much of which included life insurance policies paid out following the death of John Duncan, Sharman’s father and Elizabeth’s husband, in January 2004. None of the seven investors ever received a penny back from Elvin, a point Elvin himself conceeded in court.

Elvin had told his investors they would get a 20% return on a 30-45 day investment and gave many of them shares in a company in the British Virgin Islands called Pear Shaped Resources. He told them that PSR was started in 1997 but in reality it was set up in January 2004. He also said that it managed a fund of €100m whereas its total share capital was $50,000.

The court heard that the bulk of the monies invested, over €140,00, was spent by Elvin. He withdrew one investor’s money they day after he lodged it to pay back another invested he owed €25,000.

Elvin told the court that he had used money “to feed starving cattle” and make improvements to his farm. “In my mind, the farm belonged to the investors,” he said.

Some of the money was sent on to Larry Marsella who Elvin believed would turn €50,000 into €98.6m in just 35 days through foreign exchange transactions (ForEx). Elvin sent Marsella approximately €83,000 in all, of which only around €43,000 could be traced to the investors involved in this case.

When it became clear that the ForEx scheme was not going to work, Elvin demanded the money back and Marsella sent him €41,000. Elvin also spent this rather than reimburse the investors. A panicked Elvin warned Marsella that some of his other investors, who were not involved in the case, had “associations with the IRA” and “dealt in summary justice”. Marsella told the FBI and an Assistant District Attorney in Florida that he severed all contact with Elvin after this.

State’s Prosecutor Patricia McLaughlin SC told the jury that the documentation showing where monies came from and where monies went provided “black and white, clear and incontrovertible” evidence of Elvin’s guilt. “In emails to his associate Larry Marsella in Florida, he wrote that he wanted Mr Marsella to make him a multi-millionaire” and “the first item on his wish list was a new farm”, she said. “He wrote to Mr Marsella ‘I’ll do whatever I can to get as much money as I can’”, she noted.

Counsel for the defence, Desmond Murphy, said his client “is a good Christian man, a God-fearing, Bible-loving, small farmer who at all times only wanted to make money so that he could do good works.”

The bad investments had taken place at the height of the Celtic Tiger when everyone talked about money and making money, he argued.

The investors had gambled and lost and were simply the victims of their own greed.

Elvin, was, Mr Murphy said, “a broken man” who had been “caught up in a scheme of utter delusion”.

Judge John O’Hagan adjourned sentencing to March 27 to allow Probation Service and psychological reports to be drawn up.