A Michigan judge has sentenced Michael Winans, Jr., a member of gospel music’s famed Winans family to nearly 14 years in prison on Wednesday for an $8 million scam that targeted church members.
Two of Winans Jr.’s victims spoke openly in federal court about how they were duped into investing in the Ponzi scheme to sell Saudi Arabian oil bonds and how it robbed many of their life savings, caused divorces and fractured many families.
“I want to apologize to everyone. … These were decisions that were negligent and irresponsible,” Winans Jr. said in court.
The 30-year-old singer/producer claimed that he had no “malicious intent” with his actions, but acknowledged that he continued to collect money even after he learned that the bonds were bogus.
Winans Jr. attracted more than 1,000 investors in 2007 and 2008, although he didn’t know them all because many were recruited by others through word of mouth. The 30-year-old entertainer promised 100 percent returns in two months, and then used the money for personal expenses or to pay off earlier investors. About 600 people are still owed $4.7 million.
U.S. District Judge Sean Cox read several letters from 50 victims who wrote them. He shared one story of a young woman joined the Army because her family had lost money that was intended for her college education. The judge emphasized that Winans Jr.’ pitch from church pulpits was deplorable.
“Fraud on good, decent church-going people — that was very, very troubling to me,” Cox said.
Cox chose a sentence that was in the guideline range of 12 ½ years to 15 ½ years in prison.
“Investor fraud schemes like this one are just a fancy way to steal other people’s money,” U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said.
Winans Jr. was a member of the contemporary gospel quartet, Winans Phase 2, which included his cousins Marvin Jr., Carvin III and Juan Winans. The group released one CD, ‘We Got Next’ in 1999.A third-generation member of one of gospel music’s most popular families, he released his own album in 2011 called “My Own Genre.”
His father, Michael Winans Sr. is a member of the Grammy-winning gospel group The Winans. He also released three duet CDs with his wife Regina Winans.
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