‘In God We Trust’ Securities Huckster Found Guilty In $17 Million Swindle; Byron Keith Brown Had ‘Fleet’ Of Luxury Cars; Feds Call Business ‘Tangled Financial Web Of Lies’

A Virginia man who traded on religious sentiments and the motto printed on U.S. currency to fleece investors in a $17 million Ponzi and securities swindle potentially faces decades in prison after being found guilty in Maryland of wire-fraud and money-laundering charges.

Byron Keith Brown bought at least 16 luxury or high-performance cars with investors’ money, including brands such as Lamborghini and Rolls-Royce, prosecutors said.

Brown, 32, of Vienna, operated In God We Trust Financial Services (IGT) and used his websites to ask prospects to turn over $1 million at a time, prosecutors said. He formerly lived in Ellicott City, Md.

A veteran IRS investigator said the case demonstrated that a huckster could create the appearance of success to mask “a tangled financial web of lies.”

“Ponzi schemes can thrive for a time on false claims about how the money is being invested and where the returns are coming from,” said Rebecca Sparkman, special agent in charge of the IRS Criminal Investigations Unit in the District of Columbia field office

“[B]ut that time is gone and as this verdict shows it is time for those responsible to face judgment,” Sparkman said.

Brown, prosecutors said, filed bankruptcy in 1999 — but soon emerged with a tale of fabulous success that painted him as the head of an international firm that specialized in catering to wealthy investors from offices in Washington, D.C., Wilmington, Del., New York, and London, England.

It was all an illusion, prosecutors said.

“[H]e had rented a mailbox or services at a virtual office that provided telephone answering services and mail forwarding services to clients,” prosecutors said.

And Brown “used computer software to create an illusion that the investor was logging into a banking website and viewing account information when in fact, the account numbers were made up,” prosecutors said.

U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said the government, to date, has seized 16 high-end cars linked to Brown.

“Byron Brown used the Internet to make it appear as if he were running an investment management business for wealthy investors, when in fact he was stealing millions of dollars from investors and using it to buy a fleet of luxury cars,” Rosenstein said.

Included in Brown’s investor-funded haul were a 2004 Bentley, a 2005 Rolls-Royce Phantom, a 1936 Auburn Speedster, a 2007 BMW, a 1997 Jaguar, a 2006 Aston Martin, a 2007 Lamborghini, a 2008 Maserati, two Mercedes and a 2002 Ferrari, prosecutors said.

“In addition to sentencing criminals to prison, our goal is to seize any assets purchased with criminal proceeds,” Rosenstein said.

Brown was not licensed as a broker, dealer or investment adviser in Maryland, Virginia or the District of Columbia. The scheme operated between 2003 and 2009.

America was dependent on the horse and buggy when the motto “IN GOD WE TRUST” became part of the national consciousness.

The motto first appeared on the 1864 two-cent coin, the U.S. Department of the Treasury notes on its website. Abraham Lincoln was President at the time, and the United States was engaged in the Civil War against the breakaway South.

On Nov 13, 1861, the Rev. M. R. Watkinson, Minister of the Gospel from Ridleyville, Pa., wrote to Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, observing that “the Almighty God” should be recognized in some form on U.S. coins.

Chase acted almost instantly to make it happen, according to the Treasury Department, which had received many similar “appeals from devout persons throughout the country,” the Treasury Department notes.

Watkinson reasoned a nation that did not acknowledge God one day might be regarded a nation of heathens, according to his letter to Chase.

“From my hearth I have felt our national shame in disowning God as not the least of our present national disasters,” Watkinson wrote to Chase nearly 150 years ago.

In a letter dated Nov. 20, 1861 — a week after the date on Watkinson’s letter — Chase instructed James Pollock, director of the Mint at Philadelphia, to prepare a motto for U.S. coinage.

Here is how the letter read, according to the Treasury Department.

Dear Sir: No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins.

You will cause a device to be prepared without unnecessary delay with a motto expressing in the fewest and tersest words possible this national recognition.

The words “IN GOD WE TRUST” became the official U.S. motto by an Act of Congress in 1956, when Dwight Eisenhower was President. The words officially were added to paper currency, beginning in 1957.

Brown operated at least three companies that used the “In God We Trust” theme, prosecutors said. Experts say scammers frequently use appeals to faith and patriotism to steal from investors or line them up to be fleeced in fraud schemes.

Visit the Treasury Department website to read about the history of “IN GOD WE TRUST” on U.S. coins and currency.

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