A North Carolina businessman involved in an investment program at an Atlanta-area megachurch where former members claim they lost their retirement savings says he's taking action to "make things right."
A group of church members is suing New Birth Missionary Baptist Church and its pastor, Bishop Eddie Long, saying they conspired with businessman Ephren Taylor Jr. to defraud the members through "wealth-building" seminars and sermons in 2009.
"Don't assume that I am just another greedy businessman," Taylor said in a statement to The Associated Press. "I am taking action to make things right."
He said the claims in the lawsuit came about because of "some of the negative effects of a situation with very complex economics impacted businesses, individuals and families despite our best intentions."
Attorneys for the church members say in a DeKalb County lawsuit that Taylor urged them to liquidate their retirement accounts, and as a result some lost their life savings. Plaintiff's attorney Jason Doss, who filed the lawsuit, said his legal team has struggled to locate Taylor, who operated a company in Raleigh, N.C.
"We don't know where he is," said Doss. "He's sort of off the map."
The seminars were hosted at the Lithonia-based church, which claims 25,000 members.
The U.S. Secret Service is investigating Taylor's activities, but "there is no investigation of the church itself," agency spokesman Max Milien said Monday.
Taylor is also named as a defendant in a federal lawsuit filed this month in U.S. District Court in North Carolina.
In that case, lawyers say Taylor made a series of investment presentations for the "Prosperity Fund" at churches in Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.
In the summer of 2008, he spoke at the Democratic National Convention to a youth leaders' summit on his "socially conscious" corporate investment strategy, according to the federal lawsuit.
"Taylor was fortunate to be riding the wave of popularity of young, black, successful men created by then U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama," the lawsuit claims.
New Birth spokesman Art Franklin previously declined to comment on the church's role in the investments.
Associated Press writer Greg Bluestein in Atlanta contributed to this report.