Michael Winans, Jr., scion of the Detroit-based Winans family Gospel choir, has been sentenced to 13 years and 9 months in federal prison for concocting an $11 million Ponzi scheme. The 30-year-old Winans was arrested for wire fraud in September 2012 and reached a plea agreement with the US Attorney’s Office a month later. Winans used the fame and good reputation of his Gospel-singing family to draw over 1,000 victims into a phony investment program that resulted in losses of $8 million.
From 2007 to 2008 Winans ran the Winans Foundation Trust to facilitate supposed investments in Saudi crude oil bonds. Visiting Detroit’s black churches to hold presentations under the rubric “Get Rich and Live Doing So”, Winans pitched his wondrous enterprise. A “donation” of anywhere from $1,000 to $7,000 would be applied toward trading on oil markets in Saudi Arabia at no risk, as all investor funds would be held by Winans in a US account. Winans and associates promised an outrageous yield of up to 400% on principal in a six-month period. To assure people of his noble motives, Winans wrote the following in a receipt to clients:
Our intention is to take this gift and create financial independence for humanity.
Not only did Winans have a plan to free mankind from the necessity of grinding labor, he could achieve this lofty dream without a shred of risk. As he related in a letter to recruiters:
I can assure that the principle [sic] investment will not be lost, because I’m not actually trading any of your client’s money.
Winans was inadvertently candid in admitting to not actually engaging in any trades. Instead of making fantastic returns on Saudi oil bonds, Winans was merely paying out fictitious interest and spending money on luxury items like a Maserati he leased. He also funneled cash to his music company Baby Mike Music Productions. One victim who had recruited others into the scheme told a story of broken marriages, friendships destroyed and physical illness from financial distress. Michael Winans, Sr. is also indicated by Michigan state securities regulators to have promoted the fraudulent venture.
At his sentencing Winans apologized to victims while acknowledging he realized the bonds were bogus a few months into the scheme. He claimed no malicious intent, but US District Judge Sean Cox saw it fit to remark:
Fraud on good, decent church-going people — that was very, very troubling to me.
MICHAEL WINANS, JR.
- Age: 30
- Company: Winans Foundation Trust, Baby Mike Music Productions
- Social: Presentations, seminars at church congregations
- Job: Singer, Entrepreneur
- Scam: Investment in Saudi crude oil bonds
- Profits: 400% in 6 months
- Ponzi Time: 2007-2008
- Victims: Over 1,000
- Affinity Group: African-American church communities across US
- Amount of Fraud: $11 million
- Location: Detroit, other cities throughout US
- Information: 1 Count of Wire Fraud
- Court: US District Court, Eastern District of Michigan