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Barbara Cameron had been working for four months as director of development and office administrator at Athletes for Jesus in Richmond, Va., when her boss, Lamont “Monty” Knight, persuaded her to invest $31,000 of her retirement savings in a risk-free “bank debenture trading program,” said plaintiffs’ attorney James B. Thorsen. According to Thorsen, Knight, who ran the nonprofit program and was a pastor of the Charlottesville International Church, told Cameron she would receive a high rate of return after one year. In October 1998, she invested and, a year later, made her money back with interest. But when Cameron and her husband invested another $273,000, they never saw it again, Thorsen said. In January 1999, William S. Bell invested $118,500 through Knight and Richard Hertz, a member of an associated church. And in July 1999, James and Janet Triplett invested $275,000 through Keith Highsmith, an Athletes for Jesus board member, and colleague Thomas Hofler. They all lost their investment, Thorsen said. “There was no bank debenture trading program,” said Thorsen. “It was a Ponzi scheme.” The money was never invested, he charged. Instead, “it went to fund the personal lifestyles” of Knight, Highsmith, Hertz, Hofler and former Harlem Globetrotter Clyde Austin, he said. The plaintiffs sued, charging fraud, conspiracy and violations of civil racketeering laws. Highsmith filed for bankruptcy, staying the proceeding against him, and Austin settled for $814,346. On Jan. 23, a Richmond jury found the remaining defendants liable for civil RICO violations, fraud and conspiracy, awarding $1.52 million on each of the three RICO counts, $3.04 million for fraud and conspiracy, and $960,000 in punitives, for a total of $8.57 million. The RICO judgment was reduced to a single $1.52 million award, but then trebled to $4.56 million, Thorsen said. The final judgment has not yet been entered. Plaintiffs’ attorneys: James B. Thorsen and Craig J. Curwood of Thorsen & Scher in Richmond. Defense attorneys: Brent Jackson of Jackson, Tickus & Associates in Richmond; Reginald Barley in Richmond; and Darryl Parker in Richmond.

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